May 24, 1961 (24th Parliament, 4th Session)


Frank Charles McGee

Progressive Conservative

Mr. McGee:

Mr. Chairman, since I first became concerned with this subject a number of years ago as a result of having served on two successive murder juries I have been engaged in continuing study, discussion, argument and debate on this matter and I have come to know the retentionists' argument very well indeed.
I would not care to hazard a guess as to the number of debates outside of this house in which I have been involved, but it is a considerable number. As a person will in any discussion or any continuing argument, I have made it my business to try and probe surface reasons in the minds of those persons who are advocates of the death penalty being retained.
I have also made it my business, in travelling across this country, as I have had the good fortune to do in the last year or so, in particular visiting universities in almost every province of this country, to continue to probe the reasons offered by persons who would retain capital punishment. I think I should offer to the minister and the committee

the benefit of that experience and those discussions, which experience is perhaps unique in this committee.
It seems to me that in general the great majority of retentionists are in favour, as they have indicated in overwhelming numbers in this house today, of a limitation and a reduction in the application of the death penalty. No one, not even the most firebreathing retentionist or any hon. member of this committee, enjoys contemplating participating himself in an actual execution, in spite of the phrase commonly heard following a particular ghastly murder, "I would not mind pulling the rope myself" and other statements which have been made in a burst of emotion following such incidents.
However, it seems to me that the great majority of retentionists agree that the application of the death penalty should be reduced and limited. The statement I have heard over and over again is, "Yes, I go along with your bill, your idea about abolishing capital punishment, except in the case of", and then the person goes on to describe the one unforgive-able crime from his point of view.
I must confess that most frequently the crimes mentioned and presented to me in these extensive discussions have been those committed against children, specifically the crime of rape of a child followed by murder; the crime of kidnapping followed by murder; the crime of murder committed on an old, weak and helpless person. These are the crimes most frequently suggested as being incapable of forgiveness.
I wonder whether in describing what capital murder is and attempting to define what we mean generally-and by "we" I mean the people of Canada-should be the exceptions to the limited application of the death penalty, we should perhaps embody in the language of the law some of the descriptions applied to such crimes. The words which occur, and which have occurred in this debate and in the ones that have preceded it, are, in particular, the words "cold blooded". I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that words have meanings; people use them for that purpose. As I say, the expression "cold blooded" has been used time and time again in this house in this and other discussions. Is it not reasonable that the law should contain what the great majority of people, according to my investigations, and in my opinion, feel to be a description of a crime to which the death penalty would apply.
Another word frequently used to qualify this degree of culpability for which the death penalty would be warranted is the word "foul". Several hon. members-I shall not mention any in particular, have used this
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word to describe what they regard as an unforgivable murder, a murder that must be punished by capital punishment.
There is another ingredient in this question of the degree of culpability which has troubled many people and which has been described as presenting the greatest problem. It is the person who clearly represents a threat and a danger to society. The argument put forward-and it was used in this debate as well as in previous debates-concerns a man sentenced to life imprisonment who kills a guard. The argument is: what has he got to lose if, ultimately, there is no death penalty. What has he got to lose by killing a guard? As I say, I have given an answer to that in previous debates as far as the abolitionist argument is concerned, but we are not discussing that today. We are attempting in this first clause to define in terms as clear and unmistakable as possible what we mean by capital murder, the type of murder which we say must be punishable by death. I am not prepared, as the hon. member for Skeena mentioned a few moments ago, to offer now an amendment containing these particular phrases and words, but it seems to me some consideration should be given to translating into the law, to writing into it, those terms which our people and our society have used and are using to describe such crimes, and I suggest again that perhaps "foul" and perhaps "cold blooded" should be added to the phrase "planned and deliberate" and that some consideration might be given to this question of whether such people clearly represent a threat and a danger to society. As I have said before on this argument concerning a person killing a guard while attempting to escape, surely if we can develop, design and bring forward such tremendously complicated, complex and technical devices as have been developed during this century we are capable of so designing a prison or place of incarceration as to reduce to an absolute minimum the threat or danger to those persons charged with the care of prisoners.
As I mentioned before having regard to the definition of capital murder-again I think the M'Naghten rules-the legal definition of insanity as compared with the medical or clinical definition of insanity, leave much to be desired. As I mentioned when speaking on second reading there is clearly room for improvement here in this notion of diminishing responsibility and I do hope we can qualify the definition of capital murder to exclude specifically those who are suffering from a diminished mental responsibility for their actions. I do not think the intention of the M'Naghten rules or any other consideration of insanity was ever to ensure that persons who are not sane should be hanged.

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These thoughts, which I should like to leave with the committee, are in no sense an attempt to push the minister over the brink. Rather, these suggestions are intended to give the committee the benefit of what a great many persons in this country are thinking. These are the thoughts of people vitally concerned with this subject. I offer these suggestions as being the ingredients which, according to my judgment, the majority of people have in mind for the one category of murder for which capital punishment will be applicable.

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