The Death Penalty in Canada
The death penalty was a part of Canadian law until 1976. It was originally used for murder, treason and other serious offences.
Canada seeks clemency in cases where Canadians face execution abroad and supports international efforts to abolish the death penalty. However, some people are still arguing in favour of reviving this punishment.
What is the death penalty?
The death penalty is a legal sanction that imposes death as punishment for certain offences. It is often justified on the grounds that it deters criminals and may provide a sense of justice to victims. However, there are many arguments against it. It is expensive, not always effective, and can result in irreversible injustice when innocent people are executed. It also disproportionately affects vulnerable groups, such as the mentally ill and those who cannot afford quality legal representation.
Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. The last two people to be killed by the state were Arthur Lucus and Ronald Turpin, who were hanged in Toronto’s Don Jail on December 11, 1962. Since then, the Supreme Court has ruled that it would violate section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for Canada to extradite someone who might face the death penalty abroad. This prevents the return of capital punishment for murder in Canada.
Why is the death penalty abolished?
In her new book, Carolyn Strange explores how a murder case can trigger renewed discussions of the death penalty’s role in Canada’s criminal justice system. In particular, sex murder cases involving a sexual element generate more attention and conflicting opinions on executions.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the public debated whether real justice required that a killer “die like a dog.” This argument argued that each criminal should suffer in a way that fit their crime, and in the case of murder, this meant being put to death.
In 1976, Parliament voted to abolish the death penalty except for treason and crimes against the Queen. That vote was controversial, and the Liberal government of John Diefenbaker opposed it because it retained hanging for members of the Armed Forces found guilty of cowardice, desertion or unlawful surrender. By 1998, Canada had fully abolished the death penalty for all offences other than treason. It is extremely unlikely that the death penalty will be reintroduced in this country.
What are the most serious penalties for a crime in Canada?
Although Canada has been free of the death penalty for two generations, some Canadians believe it should be reinstated. A recent poll by Research Co. found that 51% of respondents would support reinstating the death penalty for murder. Those who support the return of capital punishment argue that it is a form of justice that fits the crime. They also believe that the death penalty will act as a deterrent against murder and that innocent people will not be wrongly executed.
Before Confederation, hundreds of offences could be punishable by death. By the time of the last execution (Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin in 1962), only three offences remained: murder, treason and rape.
What are the reasons for the abolition of the death penalty in Canada?
While Canadians are generally against the death penalty, there are a number of reasons why people might support its reinstatement. For example, some people argue that real justice requires that criminals suffer in a way appropriate to the crime they committed. Others believe that it is important to punish those who commit heinous crimes, such as murder, and that this can be best achieved by imposing the death penalty.
In addition, some people believe that the death penalty provides a deterrent against committing crimes because it is not possible to escape execution. Finally, some people argue that the death penalty is necessary because it can prevent wrongful convictions by providing evidence to those who claim that they were wrongfully convicted.
Despite these arguments, it is unlikely that the death penalty will ever be reinstated in Canada. The House of Commons voted 148 to 127 not to reinstate the death penalty in 1987, and it remains illegal to carry out the death penalty under Canadian law.