No Pardon For Murder: The Death Penalty In Canada

No Pardon for Murder: The Death Penalty in Canada


Ned Lecic

Since it was elected, the Government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been known for its efforts to make Canadian criminal justice stricter. While the Opposition in Parliament has resisted quite a few of Harper s efforts, some of the bills proposed by his Government have been passed, including measures to raise penalties for sexual and drug-related offences and a restriction on pardons for certain offenders. But on 18 January, Harper was forced to address an issue which he had tried to avoid: in an interview with CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge, he was asked whether his government would consider returning the death penalty to Canada if re-elected. His initial answer was a tactful I don’t see the country as wanting to do that. When pressed to reveal his own opinion, Harper elaborated: Well, I personally think there are times when capital punishment is appropriate. But I’ve also committed that I’m not, you know, in the next Parliament, I’m not, no plans to bring that issue forward.

Clearly, the Prime Minster does not intend to bring his opinions on this divisive issue into the Canadian political arena. But his personal views may be shared by an increasing number of his compatriots: according to a 2010 Angus Reid poll, a fair majority of Canadians, 62%, are in favour of reinstating the death penalty for murderers, while a sizeable minority, 31%, would allow it to be imposed on rapists. Given these statistics, could a modern government stage an attempt to bring back capital punishment with any degree of success?

Historical background


The sentence of death by hanging was a Canadian reality within living memory. Until 1961, it was the standard punishment for murder; in that year, the law was amended to restrict the death penalty to those who committed capital murder , essentially any planned killing. Nonetheless, the last execution in Canada was in 1962, after which the government put a moratorium on carrying out death sentences. Capital punishment was formally removed from the Criminal Code in 1976. It remained residually in the National Defence Act for serious military crimes such as treason and mutiny; even those provisions were never used in recent history and were ultimately repealed on 10 December 1998.

Barriers to reinstatement

If a modern government were to go forward with a proposal to reinstate the death penalty, it would raise serious human rights issues. In an interview on the subject, Osgoode Hall law professor Jamie Cameron is quoted as stating that …any attempt to reinstitute the death penalty would raise serious constitutional questions. In my opinion, the odds are that it would be found unconstitutional. Cameron clearly has in mind Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees life, liberty and security of the person . On top of this, capital punishment is not practiced in most of the Western world, and an attempt to reinstate it would be bound to draw serious criticism from the international community.

If we were to focus solely on the current political situation, another major barrier, regardless of public opinion, is the fact that the Liberal Party, which unequivocally opposes the death penalty, currently has a strong position the House of Commons and has successfully stalled far less extreme reforms to criminal law.

As things stand, therefore, a return to capital punishment in Canada does not seem to be likely. Regardless of the common person s view on the matter, the current political zeitgeist is not in favour of reinstating the death penalty. In particular, Canada s international reputation as a liberal, progressive country would be significantly jeopardized by such a move, a price that most politicians are not willing to pay. Nonetheless, Canadian criminal law is likely to become less forgiving soon. The government is working hard to pass Bill C-23B, which will affect pardons to which, at present, a convicted criminal is entitled after 3 to 10 years have passed from the completion of their sentence. Even today, anyone convicted of an offence carrying a life or indeterminate sentence can never be pardoned, meaning that their criminal record will always be accessible to the public. Bill C-23B will make the requirements for obtaining a pardon even more restrictive, lengthening waiting times and also re-naming pardons record suspensions , which will distinguish them from the more generous pardons occasionally granted by the Governor General under the Royal Prerogative of clemency.

Ned Lecic is a writer from Toronto, Canada. He works for a



Article Source:

No Pardon for Murder: The Death Penalty in Canada