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Delegate Democracy And Capital Punishment In Canada

Essay, Research Paper

Delegate Democracy

The issue of capital punishment cannot simply be summed up in a few paragraphs, it is an

topic of great debate, over both the issue of deterrence and of conscience. There are few matters

which stir such heated debate, there are both abolitionists and retentionists, there are also those in

the middle, the people who can discern legitimacy from each group. Each group has a set of

beliefs which do apply to this matter, perhaps some groups subscribe to the old testament and its

injunction ? an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth ? ( The law of Moses, The Old Testament ), or

possibly some simply view capital punishment as legalized homicide, whatever the case may be

one must put aside personal beliefs and attempt to comprehend the facts and statistics of this issue

before coming to a decision.

Capital punishment in Canada effectively ended on December 10, 1962 with the double

hanging of Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin in the Don Jail in Toronto ( Anderson, 78-79 ). After

these executions the government began to commute all death sentences to life sentences. Then in

1976 a bill was introduced by the liberal government, abolishing the death penalty which passed

by a narrow margin of 130 to 124 ( Chandler, 199). This legislation saw murder divided into

either first or second degree homicide, similar to the method our current day legal system uses as

a definition. Later in the 1980?s the Canadian public began to feel that perhaps once again the

death penalty should be a part of the legal system. There were several reasons that the Canadian

public felt this way, one such reason was the publics perception that the vote in 1976 was not a

true ?free vote?, secondly 1984 saw a dramatic increase in the murder of police officers, which

doubled from the previous year. All of these concerns and events culminated into another vote in

the House of Commons, this vote took place on June 30, 1987 and was a motion to accept in

principle the restoration of the death penalty, this motion was defeated and consequently

maintained the norm of abolition in Canada. (McDonald, 2). This vote questioned the delegate

democracy system, however when one takes into account the fact that public opinion is influenced

greatly by media and emotion it becomes clear that perhaps the Members of Parliament did not

fall victim to this scenario but rather to the demands of special interest groups. This surely

illustrates the fact that Government at that time did indeed scorn the delegate democracy system

in Canada, and in doing this illustrated the value that they put into the opinion of their


One question that arises when attempting to come to a resolution on capital punishment is

that of deterrence, does the death penalty play a role in the decrease of murder? Or does it have

no impact whatsoever. The retentionists will argue that the fear of death will prevent murders

from committing their crimes due to the fact that they have the knowledge that they will be

executed if the do commit the act. However as abolitionist argue most murders are carried out

during temporary lapses in judgment, they are ?crimes of passion? therefore the threat of death

will have no impact whatsoever on their judgment( McDonald, 52 ). When listening to this

argument it makes one think that if a person is in such a state then no punishment will control

their actions, however would the fear of execution not stop the small percentage of murderers that

are in a cognizant state when they commit their deed? It would seem clear that the answer is yes.

And there are indeed studies no reiterate this, as shown in the 1970’s when Prof. Isaac Ehrlich

found out through his research that capital punishment did deter (Van Den Haag, 210).

Another sensitive item that tends to rear itself would be the fear of wrongful death, or

executing the wrong person. This is a matter of great importance, obviously society does not

want to be guilty of putting an innocent person to death. It is a fact that innocent people have lost

their lives due to wrongful convictions, however the number is relatively small, only two people

have been proved innocent after their execution in the United States. These wrongful deaths

occurred in 1918 and 1949 (Internet 11\05\99). However legal systems have evolved greatly in

the second half of the century and due to a broader appellate process the chances of this

happening in today?s society are very slim. The Canadian legal system provides adequate

safeguards to prevent this, defendants are given the right to free council, they have the right to

appeal, and the right to due process as outlined in Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights

and Freedoms. For one to say that by reinsating capital punishment in Canada we run a grave risk

of putting an innocent man to death, this can be understood as this person having a serious lack of

faith in our justice system. The addition of capital punishment into our system would require no

major overhaul of the justice system, simply another definition of murder specifying exactly what

types of crimes would be tried as capital punishment case.

Fair and humane treatment is yet another issue that is at the forefront of the debate on

capital punishment, the question remains, ?is capital punishment a cruel and inhumane form of

punishment?? The answer to this question is no, the death penalty is not a cruel and unusual form

of punishment, it is a quick and concise form of punishment. To say that a quick and painless

death is inhumane, while leaving some one to rot in jail for their rest of their life is fair, is a

complete farce, living conditions in most prisons are overcrowded and deplorable. The death

penalty reduces their term therefore leaving room for non life sentence prisoners and minimizes

the dangers to inmates and staff that come with overcrowding. The methods of execution in

today?s society are much improved over the gallows that were used in Canadas past. Where as

hanging was done through rough estimates and guessing which would sometimes result in

strangulation or even decapitation (Anderson 25), today?s methods are now a science in the case

of lethal injection, or have guaranteed results such as the electric chair.( Internet, 11/05/99 )

Another question arises, that of victims rights, when are prisoner is sentenced to life in prison the

public is not guaranteed that he will have no chance of parole or that of escape . ?We think that

some criminals must be made to pay for their crimes with their lives, and we think that we, the

survivors of the world they violated, may legitimately extract that payment because we, too, are

their victims” ( Bedau 317).

Another subject that needs to be addressed is that of rehabilitation and cost , some tend to

believe that any person, no matter how heinous the acts they have committed, can be rehabilitated,

be it through counseling or religion.( McDonald, 57) To say that a person like Clifford Olsen or

Paul Benardo can be rehabilitated is a complete sham, as much as some would rather not admit

we do have people in our society that cannot be helped. What happens to those who cannot be

rehabilitated? With those who acknowledge the fact that they have no remorse and would kill

again if given the opportunity? The answer is dangerous offender status, when this occurs the

suspect is placed in solitary confinement, however in these modern times in is considered unfair to

place a person in a position where they will have no mental stimulation. This leads to the taxpayer

barring the burden of supplying the inmate with items such as televisions and computers, in

addition to paying the costs involved with keeping an inmate in jail for life. In the United states for

example the average time a death row prisoner has to spend in jail until the death sentence is

carried out is about nine years and six months ( BJS 12-92). Is it not more economically sensible

to only have the public pay for nine years of jail time, rather then an entire lifetime?

Perhaps an issue of importance that has been constantly omitted by abolitionists is that of

victims rights, it would seem that some groups are more concerned with the rights of the criminals

than those of the victims. Is it right to provide convicted murderers with electronics and other

superficial items while often time the victims families become hard pressed to pay their own bills?

Our country needs to put a greater emphasis on the victims of crime, this is were capital

punishment will fill the void. Why should a person who has had a member of their family killed at

the hands of a criminal be forced to pay this persons prison stay through their taxes? If capital

punishment were to be reinstated it would put an end to this travesty. When a murderer is

sentenced to life imprisonment it does not guarantee they will never be able to kill again,

survivors and people close to the victim often have grave fear that the convict will break out and

seek revenge, by executing murderers it will allow the victims to live with a sense of security and

allow then to claim back their lives, which were indeed taken away. Perhaps this argument is best

illustrated by referring to the definition of deterrence, ?Executing a person takes away the

capacity of and forcibly prevents recurrence of violence. Deterrence is the act or process of

discouraging and preventing an action from occurring? (Webster, 307)

It is very difficult to come to a firm resolve in the topic of capital punishment, there

several different view points on the subject and all posses convincing arguments. However it is

imperative that one takes into account all of the issues involved, when one does this the answer

begins to become clear. Capital punishment is cost effective, simply put it is less expensive to pay

for nine years of jail time compared to sixty. Secondly capital punishment puts the rights back

into the hands of the victims, exactly where they belong, and something that is long overdue in

our system. In our society we do have people who are unsalvageable, those who will kill again if

given the opportunity, why should the public and prison employees be put in constant risk,

through capital punishment we can eliminate these blights on society. The people of this country

spoke however the politicians refused to listen, perhaps it is time for this matter to once again be

brought to the forefront of Canadian politics.


Anderson, Frank W. ? A Concise History of Capital Punishment in Canada?

Frank W. Anderson. 1973

Bedau, Hugo Adam. ?The Case Against The Death Penalty?

Bureau of Justice Statistics. December 1992.

Chandler, David B. ? Capital Punishment in Canada?

McClelland and Stewart ltd. 1976

Death Penalty Discussion, November 5, 1999 Search on Yahoo under “Execution

McDonald, Eleanor ?Coalition Against the Return of the Death penalty?

December, 1987

Van den Haag, Ernest. ?Punishing Criminals: Concerning a Very Old and Painful

Question? Basic Books, Inc.: ,1975.

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