Canadian army veteran charged with murder after mass shooting in Belize nightclub

A Canadian Armed Forces veteran has been charged with murder in connection to a mass shooting in Belize that left two people dead and eight others injured.

J.R. Smith, who served with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Medusa in 2006, is accused of driving the getaway vehicle following the July 31 shooting at a nightclub.

Police in Belize allege that three local men who were with Smith got into an argument over a woman in the club. They left, but allegedly returned later with guns and opened fire.

Smith and the three other men were arrested and paraded in handcuffs.

Smith’s partner, Denise Hepburn, told CTV News that he was not involved in the shooting, and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hepburn also alleged that Smith was repeatedly beaten by police after his arrest, which resulted in the black eye seen in his arrest photo.

“He defended this country. He is a decorated soldier,” she said. “He’s a good person … he would never do something like this.”

Smith, originally from Newfoundland, moved to Ontario after he left the CAF. He studied woodworking and later opened a cabinetry business. He was profiled by CTV News five years ago as part of a Remembrance Day feature on veteran entrepreneurship.

Global Affairs Canada says it’s “aware of a Canadian who has been detained in Belize” and stands ready to provide consular assistance. Smith remains in custody in a Belize prison and is due back in court in November. 

With files from CTV Barrie’s Mike Arsalides

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