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My views on capital punishment have been with me for awhile.

I thought I’d do a brief posting here to explain that my views on capital punishment (and I am obviously anti-death penalty) are not based on partisan politics, though with many of the Conservatives on the other side of the issue, it has evolved into that. I have long held that the death penalty is morally wrong on religious and ethical and philosophical grounds. I’d be attacking the position of whatever party happened to be in power if they ever mused about bringing it back.

This is also why many of my writings this week on this issue of not seeking clemency for Canadians facing the death penalty abroad are so vehement about how wrong the Conservatives are on this. There have been many who have called this “death penalty by outsourcing” or “death penalty by proxy”, and I’m fully in agreement with those descriptions of what the Cons. are doing here (the revelation they’re also refusing to stand up for Canadian citizens convicted of lesser crimes that run afoul of the Conservatives morality code whether they are in democratic countries or not just added to the vehemence of my attacks on the Cons over this issue). The Canadian government was pleading for clemency even before our own death penalty was abolished, and I find this move by Stock Day and his dinosaurs in the Cons. caucus morally and ethically revolting.

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24 comments to My views on capital punishment have been with me for awhile.

  • The Fwanksta

    Excellent point, Doug.

    Again, I think the thrust behind my argument is simple: murderers shouldn’t tie up money that could actually help other people.

    Of course, this point throws it all away:

    "By the way, it costs more to execute an offender in the US than it does to give him a life sentence."

    But morally, I think my argument still stands. I’m against capital punishment because it’s not pragmatically sensible.

  • doug newton

    So there is no ethical or philosophical basis for rejecting capital punishment outside of some religious or quasi religious "thou shalt not" beliefs. I don’t believe in capital punishment but I am unable to explain my reasons for this opinion beyond the fact that I was raised in a predominately liberal Christian society and seem to have inherited my view from that exposure. Whether the death penalty is considered moral or immoral seems to based on the collective opinion of the society one lives in at that moment. Not an absolute thing at all.

  • Well, I think I overstated my opinions. It’s not going to be possible to convince you of changing your opinion, and so we have to agree to disagree. Good discussions though.

  • "Neil, you’d feel differently if it was your mother who was murdered."

    Leslie Parrott lost her daughter Alison, to a vicious sex murderer in Toronto. She and her family are staunchly against the death penalty.  So do not underestimate the power of principle. Some people are not driven by emotion and revenge.

  • Kwil

    Give no power to the state unless you are prepared for that power to be used upon you.

    The death penalty is a bad idea for a number of reasons. First, as no crime is committed by a criminal who believes they will be caught, it is no deterrent to crime. Second, it encourages an escalation of violence by those who would qualify for it as there becomes additional incentive to eliminate any potential witnesses. Third, suicide by cop is currently a real phenomena and the death penalty merely expands the possibilities to suicide by state.

  • Gayle

    Some of you are operating with some basic factual misunderstandings:

    "Now that they have DNA,  they do not get the wrong man.  In the past they did not know for sure. "

    Not all convictions are based on DNA. In fact, probably very few are. Not every criminal leaves his or her DNA at the scene, and even where it is left, that does not mean that person committed the crime. Sometimes the issue is not whether someone is responsible for the homicide, but whether that homicide was first or second degree murder, or if it was manslaughter.

    DNA is not the ultimate solution that guarantees only the guilty are ever convicted. The sad thing is that DNA can therefore only clear a portion of the wrongfully convicted. I wonder how many wrongful convictions have been left uncorrected because of the abscence of DNA.

    "Paul Bernardo was caught on tape raping and murdering teenage girls."

    No. He was caught on tape raping them. Homolka testified that he also killed them. If she had not done so there would have been little evidence against him on those charges.

    "Neil, you’d feel differently if it was your mother who was murdered."

    Do you speak from experience? I deal with victims of crime almost every day, and while certainly some are vocal about seeking the death penalty, I would say they are the minority in this country.

    "Now, you may very well know this, but a "life" sentence does not literally mean you are in prison until you die. It means that you will always have ties to the justice system i.e. you will always be on parole when you get out. I’m not 100% sure of this, but the dangerous offender status could keep literally keep him locked up for life."

    There is always a right to apply for parole. For murder convictions that right comes somewhere between 10-25 years after the person has been sentenced. It is only a right to apply. There is no absolute right to parole if you have been given a life sentence. If you do not qualify for parole you will not receive it (which is why Bernardo will never get it, like Clifford Olson). Many people convicted of murder are paroled, and the recidivism rate for these offenders is lower than that for people convicted of other crimes. Most murderers do not reoffend.
    If you are found to be a dangerous offender and get a life sentence, you are eligible to apply for parole after 7 years (which is the case for all life sentences for offences other than murder). Again, you must qualify in order to receive parole.
    RA – the problem with your argument is that you are forgetting we have a system of justice, not retribution. It is not about revenge, it is about just consequences.
    Not that any discussion of capital punishment is relevant in Canada because the SCC has already held it violates the Charter. It will never be brought back here.

    By the way, it costs more to execute an offender in the US than it does to give him a life sentence.

  • "Annie says that we have to refrain from capital punishment because of bad karma. Is karma going to save you from being raped and murdered by the Paul Bernardos out there? No. But a hanging would."How, exactly, would hanging Paul Bernardo after he commits his crimes prevent you from being raped and murdered by Paul Bernardo? How would hanging anyone do this? Hanging is, after all, reactive, not preventative – it happens after the person has already committed the act. Multiple studies for years have shown that it does not act as a deterrent to crime. Indeed, our murder rate is at its lowest point in 35 years without capital punishment.  And our raw crime numbers in Canada, even for murder, are so low that a small absolute change of 10 or 15 can translate into 10 to 30% changes in the crime rate.

    In short there is no crime problem and certainly not one that requires a penalty for which there is no appeal – death.

    Paul Bernardo is, despite his despicable acts, a human being. An no one and no institution has the right to take the life of another human being. If it was wrong for Bernardo to kill Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy then it is wrong for a state-employed executioner to kill Bernardo, for the same reasons.

    To say otherwise is to subscribe to the moral relativist idea that the value of human life is dependent on a persons actions, where or who they are. If Bernardo can be stripped of his humanity and killed for actions this, then so can you RA. You do not want a state to have the power of life and death over you. Ever.

    It is on principle that I would not want Saddam or Hitler or Pol Pot or Stalin to be murdered by the state. Because murder is wrong and to defend that principle sometimes means applying it to the most heinous among us. This in not ‘sinking’ to any level, but standing up for a moral truth and principle even when it is uncomfortable and unpopular to do so. A society that will not kill even a Pol Pot is not likely to degenerate into killing faceless and names masses, as Hitler did. By supporting the death penalty, you are actually supporting his actions, not fighting them.

    The death penalty is about revenge and blood lust not justice. Killing a criminal will not bring back the victims, and it allows those who wish them to die to act exactly like the killer.

  • Sandra

    W. Coffin was the last person to be hanged in Canada.  A couple of years ago I read an article that was rather convincing in its evidence that Coffin did not murder the American hunters.  If only there had been DNA back then maybe he might have been proved innocent. 

  • It’s an issue of the social contract.

    Precisely.

    Raphael, two wrongs do not make a right.

    They do if they serve a purpose beneficial to society. Fwanksta’s point of unlawful confinement is valid because the state allows for lawful confinement. Just as a murder is illegal, a state execution sanctioned by the people is legal.

    In very simple terms, to show the level to which people who oppose the death penalty have sunk, they would not have sought the death of Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer who allowed for genocide and the unlawful imprisonment of thousands. Saddam Hussein, a man who was so arrogant he believed he was the President of Iraq even as he sat in the prisoners chair. A man who didn’t understand the true nature of what was happening until his tongue was bulging from his gaping mouth as the noose slipped around his neck.

    Should we seek clemency for Adolf Hitler? Is the extermination of millions worse than the extermination of one? I do not understand how we can take an absolute statement like "murder is wrong" and use it against our self-interests to protect and preserve our society from those who seek to harm us.

  • Raphael, two wrongs do not make a right.

  • The Fwanksta

    Now, I’m not in favour of capital punishment, but I feel I have something to add on the pro side:

    "And Bernardo is in jail for life with no hope of parole so your point is what? Oh yeah kill him and someone else won’t do the same crime."

    Now, you may very well know this, but a "life" sentence does not literally mean you are in prison until you die. It means that you will always have ties to the justice system i.e. you will always be on parole when you get out. I’m not 100% sure of this, but the dangerous offender status could keep literally keep him locked up for life. That could be what you mean, just thought I’d make sure it was clarified.

    I would say the most salient point for capital punishment is that we shouldn’t feed Bernardo and shelter him and make tons of preventative measures to ensure he doesn’t run off. He obviously is too sick to exist in society, he has broken the simple rules society has laid out for him; therefore, society shouldn’t have to keep paying for him to keep living. It’s an issue of the social contract.

    "What exactly is the essential difference between a private killing and a state-sanctioned one."

    If that logic goes, what’s the essential difference between a private "locking someone up against their will" and a state-sanctioned "locking someone up against their will." They’re both infringements on individual liberty, but one of them is in reaction to the other, and is legitimized by the social contract. They break the rules of the game, they pay a price. The question is what price.

    So, Since we can’t let him back into society, the only remaining option is to kill him. Why should Bernardo’s food and shelter tie up dollars that could be going to save lives in the health care system, or correcting poverty? It’s an economic issue, but not merely one: he first had to show us he didn’t deserve life, namely, by killing people in such a horrible way and being so perverted we know he’d do it again. Then we realize we live in a world of scarce resources, and the world would be better off with him dead, and the money that would have gone to preserving his worthless existence can help people in need.

  • Neil, you’d feel differently if it was your mother who was murdered. It’s not about an eye for an eye, but when society deems that a person has lost the liberty of life because he has taken another. Capital punishment makes sense. This notion of "civilized" and "moral" are based on a crude interpretation of the modern world where they think our beef comes in neat little packages and our liberty is preserved by being nice.

  • It was once argued that the death penalty was a deterrent.  That’s been exploded.  We have a fatr lower murder rate in Canada than when we had it.  Beofre that it was argued we had to have the death penalty because our prisons were not secure.  The eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth philosophy is not fit for a civilized society.  What exactly is the essential difference between a private killing and a state-sanctioned one.  They both equally demean the perpetrators.  There’s not a single argument in favour of this savage policy that holds a thimbel-full of water.

  • There are many cases where the accused did not do it. Some were not so lucky  before the  death penalty was taken away. There are a few since who were let go  because of recent  DNA. …Steven Truscott at the time, it was not circumstantial evidence..that was known  many years later. He was going to  hang but he was only 14   and Diefenbaker, gave him life in prison.

  • And Bernardo is in jail for life with no hope of parole so your point is what? Oh yeah kill him and someone else won’t do the same crime. Tell it to Jack…Jack the ripper

  • Truscott was convicted 50 years ago on circumstantial evidence. To say the death penalty wouldn’t work because of one wrong conviction is like arguing that nobody should fly in airplanes because some of them crash.

  • Eugene, never better said !

  • Raphael I have two words for you; Steven Truscott.

  • By Karma, I mean the next time around!!!

  • paul

    I am certainly no Liberal but I am against the death penalty. The problem I have with the Liberal position is that it looks as though it only applies to the US application of it.
    When Harper was railing against the Chinese human rights record, wasn’t it the Liberals claiming that he lacked nuance?

  • Paul Bernardo was caught on tape raping and murdering teenage girls. Does he deserve your higher moral and philosophical grounds? How do you feel about the fact that he may be sitting in prison right now, comfortably fed, comfortably warm, perhaps fantasizing about his hands around the throat of Kristen French and smiling a little as he does it?

    Is it just possible that some people don’t deserve to breathe the same air as you or I? If murder is immoral under any circumstances, would you stand there and allow someone to choke you to death? Or would you resist? If the state represents an act of self defense to society by removing this person from being in the position to ever murder again, is this not fair?

    Annie says that we have to refrain from capital punishment because of bad karma. Is karma going to save you from being raped and murdered by the Paul Bernardos out there?

    No. But a hanging would.

  • Sometimes they got the wrong man, and executed him. Now that they have DNA,  they do not get the wrong man.  In the past they did not know for sure. I do not think it is our judgement to kill. Did you ever hear of Karma ?

  • Observant

    But you are pro-death for a human fetus … correct?

  • doug newton

    Hi Scott
    What are the ethical and philosophical grounds upon which you judge capital punishment to be morally wrong?
    I am not trying to pull your chain here. I can only see an argument based on religious beliefs.

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