Thursday, 22 November 2007

Europe condemns Canada's stance on U.S. death penalties

Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Likened to Pontius Pilate

PETER O'NEIL, CanWest Europe Correspondent Published: Wednesday, November 21

The Council of Europe, the continent's top human-rights watchdog, harshly denounced Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government yesterday for its decision to stop seeking clemency for Canadians on death row in U.S. jails.

The council's secretary-general, Terry Davies, likened the government to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who "washed his hands" of the decision to crucify Jesus Christ after a mob demanded his execution.

In a provocative interview with CanWest News Service, Davies also said Canada is effectively "subcontracting" out the death penalty, just as the U.S. government has dispatched terrorism suspects to Third World countries to be interrogated under torture.He urged Ottawa to reverse its decision and to press U.S. authorities to return Albertan Ronald Smith, the murderer at the centre of the controversy, from his Montana jail cell to serve the rest of his life behind bars in Canada.

"I'm very disappointed to learn that the Canadian government is not taking some action to get this man returned to Canada, where he should serve a life sentence. We certainly don't want a man like that walking the streets," Davies said. "But to execute him is degrading. It's reducing authorities to the same level as people who kill people.

"I'm just amazed that the Canadian government would wash its hands, just like Pontius Pilate."
Davies said the Harper government, which doesn't back the return of capital punishment, is essentially saying the death penalty is acceptable as long as it doesn't happen on Canadian soil.
Harper said the decision not to seek clemency for Smith, who is facing execution by lethal injection for the murder of two aboriginal men in 1982, is consistent with his government's tough stand on crime.

Davies said Canada is well known in Europe for being far more "civilized" than the U.S. because of its strong defence of human rights and opposition to the death penalty.
"I would not say you could lose your reputation, but you could certainly damage it."

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