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

Should We Bring Back Hanging?

Brandon Sun, February 2, 2015 - David McConkey

In the spring of 1914, 28-year-old Harry Green had just immigrated from the United Kingdom and had started working on a Hartney area farm. Just a few months later, Green was on trial for the murder of his fellow farm worker Thomas Hill.

The brutal murder of Hill, the Brandon Daily Sun reported, was traced back to Green “by a most wonderfully complete chain of circumstantial evidence.” Green was found guilty and sentenced to hang.

Green was hanged 100 years ago, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 1915 at the Provincial Jail on Victoria Ave. The jail, constructed in 1884, is now part of the Rideau Park Personal Care Home.

Green was the fourth – and last – individual hanged in Brandon. The others: William Webb in 1888, Hilda Blake in 1899, and Walter Gordon in 1902. Gordon and Green were buried in the Brandon Cemetery. But Webb and Blake were buried right at the jail. As a Sun article last month noted, marking the graves today at the personal care home would be a great idea for historical recognition and also for tourism.
We don’t hang murderers anymore in Canada. The last hangings in Canada were in 1962. Canada officially abolished capital punishment in 1976. But isn’t the death penalty a good idea: appropriate and even practical? Shouldn’t we bring back hanging?
No, we have higher moral standards now. We also know now that the death penalty is not effective. For example, the states in the U.S. that have the death penalty have higher murder rates than the states that don’t have the death penalty. Also, to give murderers the death penalty is more expensive than to sentence murderers to life in prison. (That sounds counter-intuitive: the reason is legal costs.)
As well, ending the death penalty makes sense in combating Islamic terrorism. Religiously motivated terrorists want to die as martyrs. The death penalty is what they want – why give it to them?

Capital punishment is like another issue recently in the news. When dealing with terrorists, is it OK to use torture?

“No,” the world answered in 1984 when a UN convention was signed banning the use of torture. At the time, U.S. President Ronald Reagan noted proudly that his country had “participated actively” in developing the convention. Reagan called torture “an abhorrent practice.”

All torture and “other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” is outlawed by the UN convention. This applies to torture used as a punishment or used as a way to extract information from prisoners.

The convention states clearly: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war . . . or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

But after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the American government and the majority of public opinion ignored the convention and Reagan’s words condemning torture. Apparently it is all too easy for us to be swayed by fear, or by false claims that torture works, or even by a desire for revenge. We can also succumb to outdated notions like the biblical maxim of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

The recent U.S. Senate report on CIA activities concluded that no good intelligence was gained from their program of torture after Sept. 11.

So, for both the death penalty and for torture, the approach that is the most moral is also the most pragmatic.

Here’s a final question: Who cares anyway about the treatment of terrorists and murderers? As citizens, we should care. In the end, it is not about them: their actions are despicable. Instead, it is about us: what we do and the kind of society we hope to create. So, we must be on guard that we don’t slip back to the poorer morality of earlier times.

A century ago, hanging someone in Brandon was regarded as acceptable, almost mundane. “Harry Green Paid Extreme Penalty for Hill Murder,” the headline in the Sun said. “Sentence of the Law Carried Out at Provincial Jail Here this Morning.”

“Condemned Man Walked to His Doom Without Assistance – Ate Good Breakfast.”  

* * * *
See also:  

Discovering Historic Downtown Brandon

Reflections on “Brandon’s Ghetto”

Death Penalty Debate is Back

Dark Side of Brandon’s Past

Manitoba History – A Citizen Appreciation



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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