June 22, 1987 (33rd Parliament, 2nd Session)


David James Walker

Progressive Conservative

Hon. Walter IVIcLean (Waterloo):

Mr. Speaker, in entering this debate and in speaking against the motion on the restoration of capital punishment I would like to say that I do so this evening speaking in concurrence and, indeed, in support of the position outlined by the Prime Minister (Mr. Mulroney) in his speech in this debate a few moments ago. I come to this decision because I believe that the right to life is the most fundamental human right. I believe it is a gift of God. I strongly believe that it is the state's foremost duty to protect this right for all citizens, not to take it.
I do not believe that men and women have the right to decide who should live and who should die. As the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Donald Coggan, said in 1975: "-there is an ultimate sense in which justice must be left to God". I oppose capital punishment not because I do not recognize the monstrousness of murder and the need to mete out appropriate punishment but because I believe in the absolute sanctity of life.
I know that my colleagues who have spoken so eloquently against capital punishment share the same abhorrence for all crime, and murder in particular. But let me emphasize that no one has gone soft on crime. I was particularly encouraged a few weeks ago, in fact on May 15, to see in The Globe and Mail that my colleague, the Hon. Member for Ottawa West (Mr. Daubney), outlined very succinctly five points to consider in rejecting the death penalty. He laid before the Canadian public some of the importance to the moral fabric of our country behind this debate.
He asked questions and invited us to consider whether the death penalty is a genuine deterrent to murder; the effects on juries; the brutalization effect; the risk of executing the innocent; and the matter of retribution. 1 think that what the
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Hon. Member for Ottawa West was underlining as he wrote and spoke of his growing convictions and those of an increasing number of Canadians is that a 20th century society such as ours cannot seek solutions to social problems by returning to past history but rather should do so by looking to today and on to tomorrow. I cannot accept the logic of a morality that teaches that the state should commit murder to demonstrate that murder is wrong.
Clearly, I believe that restoring capital punishment would be a retrogressive step. By performing such an act I believe we become less than human, proclaiming not only the worthlessness of the offender but of ourselves as well. Capital punishment debases and brutalizes all society, in my experience.
Executions draw the interest of the morbid and can have a criminogenic effect on unbalanced minds. I believe the goal of a civilized society should be to reform and to deter criminals, not to cry out for vengeance.
Sociologists, psychologists, and other experts have suggested that the causes of murder lie in a multiplicity of factors. They tell us they lie in the slums, broken homes, poverty, drug addiction, and drunkenness, along with the lack of opportunity and education. The effects of these backgrounds on individuals are heightened by the general affluence of our society and by television depictions of violence as being acceptable.
As those who are watching by way of television switch their channels in the evenings, they can ask themselves tonight how many people they have seen blown out of the water or blown off the streets. How acceptable are the pictures across our channels of violence? Such explosive combinations of course produce cataclysmic results for our society.
The vast power and resources of the Canadian state should be utilized to find ways and means of dealing with the fundamental issues of social dislocation. Canada's Catholic Bishops, in reaffirming their opposition to capital punishment, have called for an improvement of our correctional systems. They have called for an attack upon the social factors which spawn delinquency and crime. The Bishops, Canadians will have noticed, rejected the four reasons which are often given as a justification for capital punishment-retribution, an example to society, deterrence, and protection of society.
According to the Bishops, and I quote:
It is now recognized that these reasons are problematic and cannot serve as a basis for moral judgment. Solutions that people once considered natural, just, and even necessary for social order, have thus come to be seen as radically unjust and inhumane.
The Bishops recognized the following:
The death of a murderer cannot make good the suffering that crime brings, as it destroys lives, ruins families, and crushes the hopes of innocent people.
Many churches-and this has been alluded to by many Members who spoke in the debate today-including my own

June 22, 1987
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Presbyterian Church have adopted a similar position. I believe we should listen to them.
In leafing through information materials which were sent to all Members of Parliament, I came across a poster which has the picture of a hand with a stone in it. Interestingly enough, the poster, sent by the Mennonite Canada Victim Offender Ministries in Kitchener, has this thought-provoking caption for those who would use scripture pro or con in their debate: "Jesus was once asked for his support of the death penalty. His reply was: "Let one who is without sin cast the first stone".
For some of us capital punishment has a horrifying reality. It evokes memories that we wish to forget. However, in these circumstances I wish for a moment to share with the House my experiences, because as I have listened and monitored the debate, to date it has been largely theoretical.
1 lived in Nigeria, West Africa from 1962 to 1967. I returned to Nigeria in March, 1976. At that time 34 very senior military officers who had been accused of plotting the assassination of the head of state were sentenced to death by firing squad. I should explain that the head of state in question, General Murtala Mohammed, was a popular leader indeed.
His assassination in a botched up coup attempt touched a raw nerve in the country. The death sentences quickly passed on the accused were designed not only as a fitting punishment but to serve as a deterrent. The executions became a public spectacle. People were invited to Bar Beach near Lagos where the executions took place. There was full press and television coverage of the event.
I can still see in my mind's eye the clergy giving the last rites, then the shooting of the firing squad, and the bodies as they lay slumped against the poles to which they were tied. An officer went about poking the bodies to finish off those who were not dead. I said to myself then, as I say it today: What a cruel waste. It achieves nothing. It is the wrong medicine for societal illnesses. It satisfies only animal instincts of humankind.
Yes, the Nigerian State had exacted revenge, but it had also alienated many people. The families, the friends, the extended families, and the relations of the executed persons suddenly became enemies of the state, not friends. The violence had achieved nothing. It had not stopped people from employing violent means to win power.
Those who support a return to capital punishment suggest a public consultation about the method of execution. Somehow it is a very antiseptic and far from personal experience. We will be asked to weigh firing squads versus the noose, the electric chair against lethal injections or perhaps stoning, as is done in some societies. While we are at it, they will probably decide, in order that it should be an effective deterrent, that executions should be held in public for all to see. To follow this logic, why not here on Parliament Hill? After all, if we are to look at the
past record, executions were staged publicly before Confederation.
I find dehumanizing all this discussion about the best way to kill a man or woman. The whole idea is that we are somehow here to find a humane way of doing the inhumane. There is nothing humane about killing. Indeed a humane society, which is what we claim to be, will not consciously kill a human being. It will affirm the sanctity of life. Capital punishment is, I suggest, against our Canadian way of life. It is against the very principles of our existence as a free, a caring, and a civilized society.
One issue which to my mind the proponents of capital punishment have not adequately addressed is what happens if the system makes a mistake and we execute a completely innocent person. According to Amnesty International, there have been 28 cases of mistaken executions in the United States since 1900. Who, I ask, takes the blame for such monumental injustice? I have heard the argument that Canada has never recorded one such case of mistaken execution since Confederation. I am happy to hear that our record is so unblemished, but that is as far as it goes.
Tonight in his speech the Prime Minister was reminding us of the grave reservations of Prime Minister Diefenbaker about this whole matter in his criminal legal experience. The fact that we have not made such a mistake in the past does not mean that we cannot make it in the future. What if it does happen? Can anyone imagine the consequences of such an act?
I received in my mail today a letter dated June 19 from a Douglas E. Moore living in Thornhill, Ontario. In his letter he outlined his own experience and he described the horrifying circumstance when it was determined that a mix-up had occurred at the hospital and that the bullet fragments were found in the tissue samples from another unrelated case after two and a half years of his life being upside down.
Let me emphasize that other speakers before me addressed the several arguments against capital punishment. I fully endorse these arguments. However, even for those of us who strongly oppose capital punishment, there are legitimate public concerns about crime and our penal system which must be acknowledged and with which we must deal.
There is no doubt that ordinary citizens are terrified by rising crime and violence in our North American society. They are perplexed by what they see as the condoning of crime by the criminal justice system. There is a real fear in our streets and in too many of our homes. The rising tide of vigilante-ism and the public support for capital punishment are the manifestations of this fear. This has not come just out of a vacuum.
People come to me from across Kitchener-Waterloo and ask why the law appears to favour criminals and not the victims. There is a perception that law-abiding citizens are not receiving adequate protection from the law. It seems that the
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law is more interested in the rights of criminals than it is in victims. These are legitimate fears and questions to be addressed. I perceive that these are questions of which people on both sides of this debate are seized as Members of Parliament in Canada.
There was, for example, a report on the television program 60 Minutes recently about a notorious murderer known as Austin Choker who murdered a string of women by choking and then beating them mercilessly. He was caught and sentenced to a term totalling 123 years. After eight years, a parole board released him on a two to one decision. He went to Houston and immediately resumed his trade. He attacked two women. Fortunately, he was caught and is now back behind bars. In interviews, the two victims expressed horror that such a notorious killer could be paroled after eight years. Their conclusion was that the law did not care about them as law-abiding citizens. This happened in the United States, but people in Canada relate to these things and worry about them.
The only way to assure people that the law is on their side is by example. Those on the front line in the fight against crime-police officers, prison officers and others-must be given adequate protection, even it means changing the law. Training techniques need to be vastly improved. We are lucky to be a nation of great scientific and technological achievement. We can avail our law enforcement agencies of the latest techniques in crime fighting.
I hope that this debate will underline the fact that our criminal justice system needs to be improved. But we need not become an inhumane society in the process. Criminals can be dealt with firmly and effectively. And, if need be, our parole system should be strengthened. Those who have expertise in the field can study this system and bring us the necessary changes. We should not encourage types like Austin Choker. Perhaps it may be in our interest to have judges or representatives from the Justice Department sit on parole boards.
The range of new ideas is limitless. I suggest that we explore them, that we use the scientific and social resources of our fast developing nation, of this vast knowledge explosion, that we begin to understand how much we have moved in behaviour modification and in the whole understanding of our society in the last decade, to say nothing of the last quarter century.
It is interesting, and Canadians will be aware of this, that as this debate has gone on through the media and here in Parliament through many months, polls are changing. I find again and again that men and women in conversation agree on what is the problem and what is the medicine. Because of this fear, concern and anxiety, capital punishment has suddenly become the cure-all. I plead that out of this debate we may have a renewed resolve to use the technological and the sociological tools available to us to support those who seek to bring law and order into our community and to maintain it. I, with others who will vote against this motion, obviously wish to be on the side with all parliamentarians in building a better
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Canada, in seeking to light a candle rather than to curse the darkness.

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