David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Death Penalty Debate is Back

Brandon Sun, March 27, 2011 - David McConkey

The death penalty – the issue just won’t go away!

About two-thirds of Canadians still approve of capital punishment. (Abacus Data, 2011; Angus Reid, 2009.)
And Prime Minister Stephen Harper says that capital punishment is sometimes appropriate.

So public opinion and a Conservative government could mean the death penalty returns to Canada.

Of course, that would be more likely if the Conservatives win a majority in Parliament. The last time the death penalty was almost brought back was the last time we had a Conservative majority – with Brian Mulroney.  

I’m here to argue that we should not go there.

Capital punishment used to be much more common. For example, four people have been hanged in Brandon, the first in 1888 and the last in 1915. 

More questions started to be raised after the Second World War.

Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a former defence lawyer, was opposed to the death penalty. He agonized when the federal cabinet had to decide whether to send a murderer to prison or to the gallows.

In 1960, Diefenbaker‘s government considered the case of a 14-year old boy who had been convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. That boy was Steven Truscott.

The government commuted Truscott’s death sentence to life in prison.

Almost a half century later, in 2007, Truscott was eventually acquitted. The Ontario Court of Appeal called the original conviction a “miscarriage of justice.”

The last hangings in Canada took place in 1962.

Canada officially abolished capital punishment in 1976. We were then one of only a handful of countries to do so.

During the time of the Mulroney Conservative government, a motion in Parliament to re-instate the death penalty was almost successful. (The vote was 127 to 148.)

The practical arguments against capital punishment are most persuasive.

The death penalty does not serve as a good deterrent. A life sentence is appropriate punishment and protects public safety. Keeping murderers alive in prison is a safeguard in cases of wrongful conviction.

(As an aside, let’s not confuse problems with parole and abolition of the death penalty. By all means, let’s change the law to make more use of sentences of life-without-parole.) 

Another point against the death penalty: it is more expensive for us taxpayers.

Turns out judicial appeals mean that it costs more money to send the guilty to death row than to a maximum security prison.

In California, for example, the state spends an estimated $90,000 more per year for each murderer sentenced to death.

Abolishing capital punishment in that state would save $50 million annually.

There is an added bonus to not having the death penalty: it is an effective part of our fight against Islamic terrorism.

Executing Islamic terrorists convicted of murder is counter-productive. For one thing, they then can be celebrated as martyrs. And, according to their religious beliefs, execution just gets them more quickly to their reward in heaven. 

Sentencing those murderers to life in prison is the only fitting response.

Beyond these practical reasons, abolishing the death penalty makes sense for the values for our society.

Ending capital punishment is part of a set of great values that have evolved in developed secular democracies in the last few decades. As a result, we enjoy the best societies ever seen.

These values include freedom for individuals, equality between men and women, and respect for same sex orientation. And there is greater protection for children – including reduced corporal punishment and sexual abuse.

Abolition of the death penalty is enshrined in most of the best places to live in the world, like the countries of Western Europe.

The United States is one of just a few developed countries that still have capital punishment. And, of course, the high rates of murder in the U.S. show that the death penalty there does not deter criminals. 

Turkey is unusual for a Muslim country, in that it that has abolished the death penalty. It has done so to qualify for admission to the European Union.

Our society’s values, however, cannot be taken for granted.

Voices – usually religious – speak out to bring back not only the death penalty, but also restrictions on our freedoms, inequality for women, discrimination against gays and lesbians, and corporal punishment for children. 

Bring back the death penalty in Canada?

Please, citizens, just say no.

* * * *

See also:  

Rights and Religions

Issues for the Next Election?

Role of Religion in War and Peace

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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