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Canada refuses to co-sponsor United Nations resolution calling for moratorium on death penalty

Canada will not co-sponsor a United Nations resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty.

The decision comes only a week after the Conservative government said the country would no longer fight to commute the death sentences of Canadians facing execution in foreign democracies. That announcement drew ire from the Liberal opposition, which called the policy shift an example of the government's tacit approval of the death penalty.

Canada will vote in favor of the U.N. resolution in December, but will not sponsor it, Foreign Affairs Department spokeswoman Catherine Gagnaire said Wednesday.

"There are a sufficient number of co-sponsors already, and we will focus our efforts on co-sponsoring other resolutions within the U.N. system which are more in need of our support," Gagnaire said.

Seventy-four other countries have put their names forward as sponsors, including Britain, Australia and France.

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said last week that the government would not plead for the life of Ronald Allen Smith, who faces lethal injection in Montana for the 1982 murder of two men.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been leaning more conservative since his government won a confidence vote in Parliament last month, marking a defeat for the country's Liberal opposition party. Harper told reporters last Friday that his government had no intention of reopening the debate on capital punishment.

Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976.

The U.N. Human Rights Commission voted every year from 1998 to 2005 on a similar resolution, before concluding its final session in 2006. Canada was a co-sponsor each time, according to Amnesty International.

"Cosponsorship is the stage at which Canada has the opportunity to demonstrate that its firm commitment to abolition has not changed," Amnesty International secretary general Alex Neve wrote to Harper.

Cosponsorship does not involve much more effort than a phone call or raising a hand during a meeting, said Canada's former ambassador to the U.N., Paul Heinbecker.

"You can only take these as signs of how the government wants to be seen," Heinbecker said.

The United States and Japan are among the few democracies that have traditionally voted against anti-death penalty resolutions at the U.N.

Two proposed moratoriums have reached the floor of the General Assembly, in 1994 and 1999 - the former defeated by eight votes and the latter withdrawn at the last minute.

Canada's change in policy comes amid a slackening of the pace of executions in the U.S. as lethal injection procedures are under review by the Supreme Court.

The U.S. high court has allowed only one execution to be carried out since it agreed in September to hear a case from Kentucky that will decide whether a method of lethal injection is unconstitutionally cruel and unusual. Some capital punishment states have decided to hold off on executing death row inmates until the Supreme Court rules one way or another.

In 1999, Canada strongly opposed the execution of convicted murderer Stanley Faulder, who was put to death despite the former Liberal government's multiple attempts to change the mind of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush.