Is any crime worthy of taking the perpetrators life? Section 7 of our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids the use of capital punishment. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also condemn capital punishment. However, some countries continue to practice capital punishment; here is a quick glance at Canada’s struggle with capital punishment.
In 1865, crimes of murder, treason and rape justified capital punishment. Later in 1961, the sentence became limited to: premeditated murder and murder of a police officer, guard or warden in the course of duty and resulted in mandatory executions by hanging.
In 1962, following the executions of who was convicted of premeditated murder of an informer and witness, and Robert Turpin who was convicted of unpremeditated murder of an officer to evade arrest, no executions were carried out. Their executions were accompanied by protestors outside the Don Jail in Toronto, Ontario holding vigils and chanting the government was murderous. Although this was the last execution in Canada, the debate continued and many amendments to the legislation followed.
In 1966, capital punishment became limited to matters pertaining to the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards. In 1976, capital punishment was restricted to the Canadian National Defense Act for the most serious military offences, like treason and mutiny. Non – military offences which were punished by death were replaced with a 25-year jail sentence, also known as a life sentence in Canada.
In 1998, the National Defence Act was brought in accordance to Canadian civil law by enacting a 25-year sentence instead of execution. In 2001, in United States vs. Burns, the Supreme Court of Canada argued that extradition cases that impose the death penalty cannot be carried out even if they are imposed.
The U.S, India, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Yemen are some nations that still practice capital punishment. Depending on where one resides, capital punishment can include crucifixion, hanging, beheading, firing squad and lethal injection.
Supporters of capital punishment argue capital punishment:
1. Lowers costs for taxpayers as it costs less than to keep prisoners alive;
2. Criminal justice system protects criminals more than victims if criminals are kept alive;
3. Recidivism is likely (recommitting a crime);
4. Gives the family of the victim closure;
5. Helps alleviate the overcrowded court system, prisons and justice system; and
6. Righty punishes Individuals who violate the moral code of a country, religion or tradition
Conversely, opponents argue capital punishment:
1. Is costlier for taxpayers due to lengthy legal proceedings which follow a sentence including appeals and required procedures which can result in prisoners being on death row for 15-20 years before being executed. Consequently, this can stall the legal proceedings;
2. Is cruel and unusual punishment;
3. Can put innocent people such as mentally vulnerable individuals on death row due to a travesty of justice; and
4. Does not bring the victim back. Also, closure has also been obtained through counselling which includes both the victims’ family and the perpetrator.
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Points of Discussion:
1. How do you feel about capital punishment?
2. Is capital punishment practiced where you live?