ACLU sues on behalf of Canadian on death row
Randy Boswell, Canwest News Service
Condemning lethal injection procedures in Montana as "state sanctioned homicide" performed by "untrained individuals," the American Civil Liberties Union has launched a lawsuit in the name of Canadian death-row prisoner Ronald Smith, aiming to halt all executions in the state.
Smith's case is already at the centre of a renewed debate over capital punishment in Canada, where the Conservative government recently reversed a long-standing foreign policy and decided not seek clemency for the Alberta-born double-murderer, who faces a death sentence for killing two Native American men in 1982.
"Botched executions in Florida and Ohio, which use a three-drug protocol similar to Montana, have graphically illustrated how lethal injections go awry, and the great pain and suffering inflicted on condemned prisoners," the ACLU said Thursday. "They show how untrained individuals can mismanage this lethal injection procedure, resulting in prolonged pain and suffering to the condemned."
If successful, an ACLU lawsuit could spare or at least prolong the life of convicted killer Ronald Smith.
Canwest News Service
Along with a sentencing appeal to be heard in U.S. District Court this year, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer in a Kentucky case on whether lethal injection constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment" under the American constitution.
In this country, a high-profile team of defence lawyers acting on Smith's behalf has petitioned the Federal Court of Canada to overturn the Conservative government's new clemency policy and force Prime Minister Stephen Harper to seek a commutation of Smith's death sentence from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
The Liberals, NDP, Bloc Quebecois and Green party have all denounced the Harper government's stance on the Smith execution, most recently arguing that Canada's policy in that case is undermining efforts to secure clemency for former Montrealer Mohamed Kohail. The young Canadian man faces a beheading in Saudi Arabia despite widespread doubts about the fairness of his conviction in the alleged murder of a male student in a schoolyard brawl.
In Montana, Smith and the ACLU are arguing that state protections against cruel and unusual punishment are even stronger than those in the U.S. Constitution being tested at the Supreme Court in the Kentucky case.
Thursday's court filing also contends that Smith's "constitutional rights of privacy and human dignity" would be violated by Montana's lethal injection procedure, "a protocol that is not even allowed in the euthanasia of a household pet."
Challenging the legislated secrecy that surrounds executions in Montana, the lawsuit also says Smith "seeks a complete and full listing of the qualifications and training of all past and future participants, executioners, and those on the execution team," including doctors.
Among the lawyers representing the ACLU in the suit is Greg Jackson, chief defence counsel in the Smith case and a vocal critic of Canada's reversal on the clemency issue. Just one day before the Conservative government decided to stop seeking clemency for Smith last October, a meeting that Jackson helped arrange took place at Montana State Prison between the inmate and a Canadian consular official, who assured Smith of Canada's ongoing support in his bid to avoid execution.