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Ontario man imprisoned, tortured in Belize shares his ordeal


It's been nearly a year since JR Smith found himself locked in a Belize prison after being wrapped up in the country's largest-ever mass shooting that claimed two lives and left eight others, including several police officers, injured.

According to police in Belize, Smith was behind the wheel of a getaway car used moments after the shooting at a nightclub on July 31, 2022, that left two dead and eight others injured.

Smith, who served overseas in Afghanistan during his time in the military, emphatically denies any involvement in the events that unfolded that night.

"Anybody that knows me knows I wouldn't; I'm not somebody that would take part in kids getting shot in a nightclub and, you know, things like that," the former Canadian Armed Forces soldier said from his London, Ont., home on Thursday.


Smith, originally from Newfoundland, was based at CFB Petawawa for years and now lives in London with his partner, Denise Hepburn.

The couple had only recently relocated to Belize after Smith became disillusioned with the Canadian government during the pandemic and sought a fresh start in what he thought would be paradise.

Instead, Smith said he was arrested and beaten for a crime he didn't commit, finding himself in what he described as a black hole in prison in a third-world country.

JR Smith is pictured behind bars in Belize in 2022. (Supplied)

Smith said he was paraded in shackles through the streets by the police.

"They threw bags over my head to suffocate me," he recalled. "I had 16 cops or so kicking me, kicking the guts out of me and then they took me past the crime scene where everybody threw beer bottles at me, spitting on me and all this stuff."

During his time in custody, he claims to have been physically tortured by investigators.

He further alleges that they offered him a deal: his freedom in exchange for $70,000 U.S.

Still, Smith maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal, asserting that the police, who had obtained a warrant to search his home in Belize, confiscated $80,000 he had saved for home renovations.

Smith said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time that night when several people, including a woman and her child, jumped in his truck seeking safety after hearing the gunshots.

He admitted to knowing the arrested men but said he had nothing to do with the shooting.

JR Smith and his partner, Denise Hepburn, in this undated photo (Supplied)

Hepburn recalled the horrors she witnessed during her visits to the Belize prison while fighting for Smith's freedom, both from Belize and back home in Canada.

"Going to that prison every day was absolutely horrible," Hepburn said. "It's a beautiful place to go and visit, but you know, for all of the corruption and the extortion and that that was going on, it was kind of unbelievable to experience."

"There's nobody [who] would have ever put that much effort into getting me out that she did. I owe her my life, that woman," he stated.

Smith now plans to pursue legal action against the police for the unjust treatment he said he endured.

After months of hardships, Smith revealed that his pension and benefits, which were frozen following his arrest, are now being restored by the government.

The couple is looking ahead to embarking on the next chapter of their lives, striving to heal from the trauma they endured over the past year. Top Stories

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