Canada, like most countries, once had the death penalty as a choice to be used in cases where it was warranted. It was made a punishment in 1865 in the jurisdictions of Upper and Lower Canada, and was on our books until 1976, with the last execution being the one that was carried out on December 11, 1962. Arthur Lucas was convicted of the premeditated murder of an informer and witness, and Robert Turpin was convicted of the murder of a policeman to avoid arrest. Both were hanged at the Don Jail gallows in Toronto.
On July 14, 1976, under the government of Pierre Trudeau, capital punishment was abolished in Canada.
The main reason for capital punishment passing away was the concern that some who were being put to death were later being exonerated by new evidence, or were found to have had completely scripted trials by overzealous law enforcement personnel and prosecutors who were anxious for the convictions. This was a very real danger as we would find out later that some of those who may have been put to death were found innocent.
Some high profile cases have appeared in the news in the last 20 years. There is David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1970, and who remained in jail until 1992, when conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney instructed his justice minister to review the case in light of new evidence. Guy Paul Morin was charged with the murder of a young girl from Queensville, Ontario and was found guilty in 1985. He then spent the next 10 years in prison before being released and exonerated. It was later discovered that numerous government officials and witnesses had perjured their testimony. God only knows how many other people have had their lives crushed by wrongful convictions, including some of those put to death.
In the last 2 decades, DNA testing has become one of the best tools for proving guilt, and an even better one for proving innocence. DNA testing has taken huge steps in securing proper convictions and is deemed accurate in most cases to 99.9%. This percentage climbs to 100% when eliminating someone. For example, a test can be absolutely certain if a stain does not belong to someone, but is only 99.9% certain if a stain does match somebody’s DNA.
Now that we have this amazing technology, we should perhaps field the question: Is it time to revisit the death penalty in our country, or should we let it stay a relic of the past?
Every couple of years it seems, there is a tragedy amongst our law enforcement personnel. Whenever an officer is struck down in the line of duty, our boys in blue make sounds for the death penalty to be reinstated in murders involving peace officers such as wardens, prison guards, and police officers. The response has always been to wait awhile for the din to die down.
Earlier this year, four RCMP officers were murdered in Alberta. 46 year old Jim Roszko was kind enough to and save us the grief of paying his way for the rest of his life. Other cold blooded killers are not as kind. Take Homolka and Bernardo, Clifford Olson, and the latest, Robert Pikton, accused of killing at least 15 women from Vancouver’s streets.
Would we be better off to put these people down? You will always have the argument that these people are not well. No kidding, I’ll give you that, but that is not the point. They all conspire to cover their crimes because they know that there is a punishment if they are caught, and to me that proves a person is competent enough to stand trial. As for the punishment, one cannot argue that it would be too harsh, as an individual would be aware of the consequences of his own actions, thus deciding his own fate. With DNA testing, we can know for certain that these individuals are guilty of the crimes that they are accused of.
We would no longer have to pay for these people to be kept in prison, which was running at $189/day in a federal prison, according to Statistics Canada’s 2000/01 figures. We would also not have to worry about these individuals re-offending, perhaps taking more innocents to their grave, and we would know that we had made our streets a little safer, permanently.
Perhaps it deserves further consideration. Maybe it’s time we got over our own distaste and got on with keeping our children safe.