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Partner of military veteran imprisoned in Belize calls on Canadian government for support

The partner of a Canadian military veteran who is in a Belize prison is calling on the Canadian government for help.

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

Denise Hepburn, Smith's partner, says that he is being treated "like an animal" in prison.

"He needs help," says Hepburn.

Hepburn maintains that her partner is innocent and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Smith has spent more than 10 days behind bars in a Belize prison.

Smith's girlfriend says he saw a lawyer today for the first time since police in Belize arrested and charged him with abetment to commit murder. Police then upgraded the charge to murder following a July 31 nightclub shooting that killed two people and injured eight more.

Hepburn retells the chaotic night, saying that Smith heard gunfire and saw everyone running and screaming.

"Everybody was pouring out of this one door of this place, and he said I didn't stick around to see what was happening. He said I just wanted to get these people out of there," Hepburn explains.

She says Smith was in his pickup truck when he heard gunshots nearby. Seconds later, he told Denise, a young woman and two young men jumped into his truck.

The 43-year-old, who served in Afghanistan, owned a cabinetry-making business in New Lowell after retiring from the military. He also mentored retiring soldiers in skilled trades.

He now fears for his safety in prison in Belize. Hepburn said Smith has been physically abused while in prison.

"He's been beaten. He's had a bag, plastic bags put over his head. He said he almost passed out a couple of times. He had to be taken to the hospital because they kicked him in the stomach so hard, and he just had an emergency appendectomy a couple of weeks before that."

CTV News contacted police in Belize, who said any interviews with Commissioner Chester Williams must be done in person.

In an interview with CTV News over the phone, a police official said he was unaware of Smith's case.

In a statement, Global Affairs Canada said:

"We are aware of a Canadian who has been detained in Belize. Consular officials stand ready to provide consular assistance and are in contact with local authorities for additional information."

Denise says Smith had moved to Belize in March to build a home after he was forced to close his business due to COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions.

"I don't even want to know how much more difficult they can make it for him," Hepburn says.

Denise says Smith remains in a police prison alone, desperate for help and answers. Top Stories

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