Friday, January 05, 2007

Time to Speak Up Against Capital Punishment

Canada hasn't had the death penalty in a long time, and it may have become one of those things that could be rolled back because we've grown complacent about it. As of yesterday, Canada has a new Attorney-General/Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson, who wants to bring back capital punishment, and his mandate is, apparently, to get things done.

To put this issue in context, it has been a long long time since we've had a government that wanted to reinstate the death penalty. Martin, Chretien, Mulroney and Trudeau were all against the death penalty. In 1987 there was a free vote in the House of Commons on the death penalty, but it was defeated.

Following the effective abolition of the death penalty in 1976 we entered a 20-year period of declining murders in Canada, although the decline was small. The biggest effect of abolition was an immediate large increase in the conviction rate for murders - after abolition, juries were twice as likely to convict a murder suspect.

Nevertheless, public support for the death penalty is currently at about 40%. (It has been as high as 73%, but that was when the survey question asked about "capital punishment"; when asked about "the death penalty", the positive responses are cut nearly in half.) Add to that a Prime Minister and Justice Minister who want to bring back capital punishment, and we are in grave danger of becoming a killing state again.

Some reasons why I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty:

1. Numerous studies, and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, have concluded that the death penalty offers no deterrent effect.

2. The class system is alive and well in the justice system. For identical crimes, a poor or marginalized person is much more likely to face sterner punishment.

3. Since 1976, at least six Canadians convicted of first-degree murder were later found to be innocent.

4. There is no humane way to kill a person. Even lethal injections are currently banned in Florida and California because of recent botched killings that caused prolonged pain and suffering. (link)

5. State executions are about the most barbaric thing that could be done to a person and to a society. No one should have the ability to kill another person except in self-defense or, arguably, war. No one should face death from their government.

You can write our new Attorney-General at Nicholson.R@parl.gc.ca.
You can find your MP's contact info here.

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5 comments:

SUZANNE said...

Do you have any evidence that Rob Nicholson or any elected member of the Conservative Party of Canada is seeking to re-instate the death penalty?

Yappa said...

Hi Suzanne,

Stephen Harper is keeping his true feelings on many issues close to his chest these days, and I don't think we'll hear him stating for certain what his position is until/if he gets a majority. There is a popular spin that anyone who mentions Harper's beliefs on social issues is scaremongering, but that's not so: I'm quite certain that he wants to bring back capital punishment but is keeping mum now only because the time is not right politically.

However, I have heard his views repeatedly over the years from many sources. Harper is generally said to want a binding referendum or free vote of MPs on capital punishment; there is no reason for him to raise this dead issue if he didn't support it. Most recently, when Stephane Dion was interviewed about the new cabinet he mentioned that Nicholson was pro-death penalty (and yes, I think Dion is a credible and knowledgable source). You could google it yourself, but here are some references and yes most of them are weak, but the question is: Given that he is widely believed to be in support of the death penalty, why does he not disabuse us of this notion? Why didn't he join every other western country in condemning the hanging of Saddam?

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20060119/elxn_reform_tories2_060117/20060120?s_name=election2006&no_ads=

http://www.ourcampaigns.com/CandidateDetail.html?CandidateID=14842

http://www.acpd.ca/acpd.cfm/en/section/Elect2004/articleID/241

http://www.macleans.ca/topstories/national/article.jsp?article=2006_12_30_1167504522

http://www.nfpl.library.on.ca/nfplindex/results.asp?sk=browse&q=506&key=607&sort=&start=11&db=6

http://www.cbcwatch.ca/?q=node/view/390

SUZANNE said...

Yappa,

I strongly doubt that Stephen Harper would allow a referendum on such a controversial issue, even with a majority.

I network with social conservatives, and the death penalty is completely off the radar, especially among Catholics. You would see a significant chunk of the Canadian pro-life movement oppose the death penalty with vigour if such a thing came to pass. I just don't hear any talk whatsoever of that agenda, from either my Catholic or non-Catholic sources.

It's true that Stephen Harper keeps his cards to his chest, and this is just as annoying to social conservatives as it is to everyone else. The social conservatives I encounter would like to know what he thinks about controversial issues. The consensus I get from my end is that he is a moderate social conservative, content to tinker with social conservative issues around the edges, but not especially concerned with them. There are lots of naive social conservatives (and non-so-cons) who think Stephen Harper is a genuine social conservative. That's not the buzz I hear on my end in Ottawa. Quite the opposite.

It may be true that Rob Nicholson is in favour of the death penalty, but I see zero potential for that issue to go ahead. It's not an issue the Canadian electorate feels strongly about.

If it comes to pass that there is a bill to re-instate it, you can count on my opposition and that of the Catholic Church, but I don't see it happening.

SUZANNE said...

Yappa,

I strongly doubt that Stephen Harper would allow a referendum on such a controversial issue, even with a majority.

I network with social conservatives, and the death penalty is completely off the radar, especially among Catholics. You would see a significant chunk of the Canadian pro-life movement oppose the death penalty with vigour if such a thing came to pass. I just don't hear any talk whatsoever of that agenda, from either my Catholic or non-Catholic sources.

It's true that Stephen Harper keeps his cards to his chest, and this is just as annoying to social conservatives as it is to everyone else. The social conservatives I encounter would like to know what he thinks about controversial issues. The consensus I get from my end is that he is a moderate social conservative, content to tinker with social conservative issues around the edges, but not especially concerned with them. There are lots of naive social conservatives (and non-so-cons) who think Stephen Harper is a genuine social conservative. That's not the buzz I hear on my end in Ottawa. Quite the opposite.

It may be true that Rob Nicholson is in favour of the death penalty, but I see zero potential for that issue to go ahead. It's not an issue the Canadian electorate feels strongly about.

If it comes to pass that there is a bill to re-instate it, you can count on my opposition and that of the Catholic Church, but I don't see it happening.

Yappa said...

Hi again,

I really hope you're right that Harper is a moderate and that the death penalty is off the table for good, but I'm highly sceptical.

While I was trying to find info about Harper's opinions I ran into this old speech of his (http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20051213/elxn_harper_speech_text_051214/20051214/) and he didn't sound very moderate in 1997. I was also reminded of opinions by people like Garth Turner and David Orchard that don't fit with your view (http://yappadingding.blogspot.com/2006/12/turner-on-harper.html and http://yappadingding.blogspot.com/2006/04/canadian-myths.html). But who knows...

I still contend that it's a good idea for people to let the new justice minister know how they feel about capital punishment. Things that are off the table have a way of getting back on, and we can't be complacent about human rights or we might lose them.

Thanks very much for the discussion!
Ruth