Hon. J. A. MacLean (Malpeque):
Mr. Speaker, I rise to take part in this debate not with the contemplation of any particular pleasure in discussing the question of suitable punishment for those who commit murder but because I think it is a subject that parliament should approach with as great objectivity as it can command on this subject which is bound to be an emotional one.
At the commencement of my remarks I should like to express my congratulations to the hon. member for Louis-Hebert (Mrs. Morin) on the very excellent speech she made last Friday.
I feel I have a special responsibility to take part in this debate because it so happens that of the four members of parliament from the small province of Prince Edward Island I seem to be the only one who is, in the popular jargon, a retentionist. I think a great many people in our province, probably the majority, feel as I do on this important subject. Whether they are in the majority or are a minority is, of course, only of secondary importance, but I believe that every point of view should find its expression in the House in this important debate.
The basic question that I think we have to ask ourselves is: What are the ethics, the mores, of our society in regard to murder? After all, any legislation that we pass can only be good and effective legislation if it expresses and generally reflects the most widely accepted wishes of the people whom we represent.
I think we should be clear in our minds concerning the purpose of the bill before us. The purpose is not to abolish capital punishment but to reduce the category of murder for which capital punishment is the penalty. In a nutshell, the bill before us reduces that category from all those who commit premeditated murder to those who commit the murder of police officers and penitentiary guards. So we are merely reducing the category of murder for which capital punishment is the penalty. We are not discussing under this bill the method of capital punishment to be
used. I think that parliament should consider that aspect at an early date. Whether or not this bill passes it is something we should consider because in any event capital punishment will not be eliminated under our law. So long as capital punishment is not eliminated I think we should carefully consider the method to be used in carrying out that sentence.
I believe we should base our consideration of the question on whether or not as a society we believe in the sanctity of human life. We must ask ourselves whether it is wise and reasonable to do so. It is certainly not necessary from a purely philosophical point of view because many societies in the past have not believed in the sanctity of human life. Individual societies in the past, which have continued for perhaps thousands of years, have thought it quite all right to kill other humans for food. I refer to the practice of cannibalism. Other societies have thought it right to kill in order to occupy or take over the land of other humans, to kill for ceremonial purposes or merely to kill in order to acquire goods as the cheapest or most efficient way of increasing one's standard of living, if you like.
Until recent times at least it has been recognized in many societies as being ethically right under certain circumstances to kill in order to acquire power or in order to take over the position previously held by the victim.
Through a painfully slow process we as a society have come to the conclusion at least partially that this previous way of looking at the lives of other humans is not viable in a highly civilized community and that in the long run it is perhaps self-defeating because sooner or later in the general scheme of things, if we give ourselves the privilege of killing humans, we ourselves are likely to become the victims of that practice. So we have come to the conclusion that we should look upon human life as something to be protected at all costs.
This view is evident in many other phases of our way of life. We keep alive people, who, because of accidents or disease, are from a medical point of view merely vegetables. We believe that we have an obligation to provide at great expense services for that purpose. I think that is correct if we say that we believe in the sanctity of human life. There is the argument that under no circumstances has the state the right even in the name of society, to practice such a barbarous thing as the carrying out of capital punishment.
At one time I thought it was very inconsistent that many people, though not all, should believe, on the one hand, in the elimination of capital punishment and, on the other hand, that abortion on demand is reasonable and a right women should have. I have always looked on that as being a paradox, an inconsistency. I consider the life of an unborn child is just as important, or perhaps more so because it is not in a position to defend itself, as the life of
October 22, 1973
anyone else. While I have always considered that to represent inconsistency on the part of many people, on thinking about it further it would seem that perhaps it is not inconsistency. On both counts it would seem that such people do not believe in the sanctity of human life.
I am a retentionist because I do believe in the sanctity of human life. Therefore it is my view that when an individual decides to take the life of another human, an act that is abhorrent to our view of the sanctity of human life, the penalty for such an act should be capital punishment not as punishment or as revenge but chiefly as an indication of the abhorrence in which society holds such a person. At the moment I am talking about premeditated murder in which a person has a plan to wipe out someone else. I am not talking about crimes of passion or homicide which could be construed as manslaughter or anything of that sort.
I would never want anyone, of course, no matter how gruesome the crime, to be subject to capital punishment on the basis of circumstantial evidence. If there is a shred of doubt, the accused person should be given the benefit of that doubt. I agree with that principle. However, as an ultimate sanction by society in respect of those who would ignore the view of our society, which I believe holds that human life is sacred, there should be no doubt in anyone's mind concerning the seriousness with which society views such crimes.
There is the argument, of course, that in the case where capital punishment is in force there is always the danger that an innocent person may be convicted and executed. I consider the chance of that happening as being very remote, especially in circumstances where it should be the recognized practice, as I think it is, that no one should be convicted and suffer capital punishment on the basis of circumstantial evidence. We should ask ourselves what the potential risk of this happening to an individual is. I contend that any Canadian citizen-you and I included- stands a far greater chance of being murdered than of being executed as a murderer who is in fact innocent. The relative chances are infinitesimal. If our purpose is to protect society, we should remember that the penalty should be such that no one can construe society's attitude as being in the least bit soft or as condoning in the slightest degree the taking of human life illegally by someone who plans it for his convenience or advancement.
It is a fact that when murders are committed the victims, generally speaking, have no means whatsoever of preventing it from happening. They are victims in the sense that they have no means of protecting themselves in advance or of taking precautions against it happening so as to make certain that they will not become murder victims. On the other hand, we can protect ourselves from the gallows. Any individual who takes the view that it is a terrible thing to inflict capital punishment on a Canadian citizen, regardless of what he has done, should remember that no one will ever be executed for murder or suffer any other punishment for murder, including imprisonment, if he chooses not to because all the citizen has to do to avoid that danger is not to murder anybody. Surely that is not too great a demand to make on the ordinary Canadian citizen.
That sums up my views in a very rough and ready way. We should consider this matter against the much broader background of what the mores of our society are at the present time. I fear that, with the rapid urbanization that has taken place in recent years all over the world, with the urban sprawl where communities are wiped out, most of our large cities are only dormitory areas where people sleep during the night and carry on their activities during the day in an entirely different environment. Among these people the sense of community has disappeared, to the detriment of our society. As a result of the destruction of small communities where people were each other's neighbours in every sense of the word, we are gradually becoming a society of Levites who pass by on the other side of the many problems that face us, especially in the large urban societies. This is one of the reasons that many people, especially the young, are being "turned off" by our society, are being frustrated by it, are being pushed into ways of living that can only be detrimental to them, to us and to society as a whole in the long run.
I want to say one more thing before concluding. I make no apology for the stand I take. I am sick and tired of being preached at by people who hold the opposite view and who say I am some sort of mossback and that I should "get with it" and advance. We are bound to advance by the fact that time moves on-we cannot do anything about that-but that does not guarantee the improvement and progress of every generation and of society as a whole. I imagine, although there is no way of knowing, that people supporting the policies that brought about tbe fall of the Roman Empire said to the critics of the day, "get with it, we want progress". I do not want progress, nor do I want to accelerate it, if that so-called progress is not real progress but only accelerates the decline in our standard of life and the quality of our society.
Subtopic: CRIMINAL CODE
Sub-subtopic: REINSTATEMENT OF LAW RELATING TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT THAT EXISTED PRIOR TO DECEMBER 30, 1972