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Ronald Smith, the only Canadian on death row in the United States, has spent more than 25 years at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Mont. ((Bill Graveland/Canadian Press))

The federal government must help an Alberta man convicted of murder in the United States seek clemency from his death sentence, the Federal Court of Canada has ruled.

Justice Robert Barnes said Wednesday the government's decision to abandon clemency efforts is unfair. He ordered the government to take all reasonable steps to persuade the government of Montana to commute  Ronald Allen Smith's sentence.

Previous governments had assisted Smith in his efforts to avoid execution, but the Conservatives under Prime Minister Stephen Harper withdrew help after taking office. The government said, as a rule, it would no longer seek clemency for Canadians tried and sentenced to death in democratic countries.

The Red Deer man was sentenced to death in March 1983, seven months after he killed two aboriginal men who offered him a ride while hitchhiking.

He marched cousins Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, into the woods by the highway and shot them both in the head with a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle.

Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson was asked for a response to the news during question period in Ottawa on Wednesday; the government replied it would like to study the ruling before commenting.