The federal Conservatives will not intervene in the case of a Canadian on death row in the U.S., a move being blastedby some Opposition MPsas a governmentendorsement of capital punishment.

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Ronald Smith is shown being interviewed in prison by CBC-TV. ((CBC))

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said he won't ask American authorities to hand over Ronald Allen Smith, an Alberta man who has been on death row in Montana for more than 20 years.

"We will not actively pursue bringing back to Canada murderers who have been tried in a democratic country that supports the rule of law," Day told the House of Commons on Thursday.

"It would send a wrong message. We want to preserve public safety here in Canada."

Smith faces death by lethal injection for murdering two men in 1982 during a road trip south of the border in 1982. Heis the only Canadian currently on death row in the U.S.

For years, it's been standard practice for Canada to lobby foreign governments to show mercy to its citizens when they face the death penalty. Ottawa would ask that their sentence be reduced to life in prison or request that the prisoner serve their term in a Canadian penitentiary.

But that policy has now officially changed.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Canadians should take this as a warning that if the Conservatives get a majority, the debate over capital punishment could be reopened.

"The fact that this government doesn't even want to try [asking for clemency] shows me what this government would try doing to Canada if they had a majority," Dion said.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said if the government won't even try to stop the execution of a Canadian citizen, it's in effect condoning capital punishment.

"You know, Canada is a country that doesn't accept the death penalty. And we've had a long tradition of defending that position."

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler— a former justice minister and human-rights lawyer— says he was shocked by the Conservative announcement.

"We're not asking that [Smith] be returned to Canada," Cotler said.

"We're not saying he didn't get a fair trial. We are saying that on the issue of capital punishment, this country has a law, this country has a policy, this country has a principle domestically and internationally. We will not support capital punishment. Fini.

"What I heard from the Conservative benches was: 'You support murderers.' Frankly, that is scandalous and shocking."

Liberals also noted that Canadian law prevents the extradition of an American to a state that uses capital punishment.

"Are we going to in fact change our extradition law as well as changing our policy on capital punishment?" Cotler asked.

In Canada, a 1967 bill placed a moratorium on the death penalty, except in cases involving the murder of a law-enforcement officer. A bill to officially ban the death penalty passed in a free vote in 1976.

Smith, who is from Red Deer, Alta., was sentenced to death in March 1983. Seven months earlier, 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.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer has said he is undecided about whether to commute Smith's sentence.

With files from the Canadian Press