Hon. Jack Murta (Lisgar):
Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon to speak against the motion to reinstate capital punishment. I do so for three reasons which I will briefly describe now and elaborate on in some detail later.
First, I do not believe that a return to capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. The facts and figures do not substantiate such a belief and I hope to be able to demonstrate that in a few minutes.
The second reason I do not support capital punishment is on moral and religious grounds. From a personal point of view, I could not support a return to capital punishment in Canada.
The third reason is that the possibility always exists that a mistake will be made. As long as human beings are in the courts and judges are making decisions, there is always the possibility of a mistake being made.
Before I explain my reasons in greater detail, 1 want to preface my remarks by saying that in 1976 when we voted on capital punishment in this Chamber I was in favour of capital punishment. The main reason for my support at that time was that I believed capital punishment would be a deterrent to premeditated murder. I feel that I was wrong and 1 think the statistics show unequivocally that it is not a deterrent. Furthermore, I have a deeper conviction from a moral and
religious point of view which, of course, is my own, that capital punishment is not the way to proceed.
There are too many variables to allow the state the right to take a human life. I believe that allowing the state to take lives, even under certain circumstances which some Members have suggested, sends the wrong signals to society in general. I believe it is wrong from a moral point of view.
First, I want to explain the reasons why I believe capital punishment is not a deterrent. When one talks to the experts, the sociologists and so on, and reads what they have written, one sees three main classes of criminals. The first class is described as the professional criminal. That person never intends to kill, but when he or she does kill it is usually because of being surprised at various events, in other words, a policeman drives by, gets out of his car and goes to see what has happened. The person is surprised and reacts in a violent manner. Obviously, capital punishment was not in the mind of that particular individual at that time, so in my opinion it would not act as a deterrent.
The second class of criminal is the amateur, the person who is more fearful and unpredictable. They are considered dangerous in the extreme. In many cases life has no meaning for them and, as a sociologist would say, they could kill at the slightest provocation. That type of individual commits the kinds of crimes which get the headlines. These crimes are committed without thought, and, of course, without thought there is no premeditation, so once again capital punishment would not necessarily be a deterrent in that case.
The third class of criminal, into which fit most of the so-called killers or people who kill, is called the "domestic" killer. It could be anyone, a neighbour, a friend, someone working in a grocery store, a doctor, anyone at all. He or she kills out of passion spontaneously and without thought or care. By far the greatest number of criminal deaths are of this particular class, and when that kind of situation arises there is no thought of deterrence. Therefore, I do not believe the thought of execution will hold back any of these particular individuals.
The truth is that there is no evidence to show that violent criminals are deterred by the death penalty. In fact, the lowest murder rates are found in countries where the death penalty has been abolished for a long time, such as the United Kingdom, Sweden, Austria, Italy, and in the States of Wisconsin and Main in the United States.
In the State of Florida there have been 16 executions since the ruling of the Supreme Court in 1976 that the death penalty was not cruel and unusual punishment. These executions are exceeded in number only by the State of Texas which has a total of 20 executions.
Florida's death row houses approximately 260 convicts, which is more than any other state at the present time, yet Amnesty International has noted that Florida's murder rate is higher now than it was during the period between 1964 and
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1979 when the electric chair was not used. The only logical conclusion which can be drawn from such studies is that there is no demonstrable evidence that capital punishment has ever actually had a significant deterrent effect on the rate of homicides, including murder.
These results dovetail with what we found in Canada. Statistics Canada reports that most victims continue to be single males who are usually killed in their own homes by someone they know, most likely a relative. Alcohol and drugs often contribute to the murder. In other words, it is a domestic type of killing. In such instances deterrence is highly unlikely to play a factor because the murder in such circumstances results from thoughtless explosions of violence, usually associated with highly agitated, passionate scenarios.
Statistics Canada also reiterated just how rare homicides are in Canada. Between 1975 and 1984 there was an average of 2.78 homicides for every 100,000 Canadians compared with 14 suicides and 20 motor vehicle deaths for every 100,000 people. If our interests truly lie in saving lives, then our best efforts should clearly be directed in pursuit of other than the reintroduction of the death penalty or capital punishment.
The argument is made that the death penalty can be used to ensure that the person or persons do not murder again. Despite the overwhelming statistical evidence that capital punishment will not lead to the reduction of the rate of murder, death penalty advocates continue to claim that it is necessary to ensure that the specific convicted murderer is permanently deterred from killing again. In other words, they do not get back into society to repeat that kind of offence.
Statistics show that this claim is absolutely false. Of 384 paroled murderers between 1970 and 1984 not one murdered again. The most recent study by the National Parole Board shows that between 1975 and 1986, 473 convicted persons were released on parole. Two murderers murdered a second time. Both of these murderers had originally been convicted of non-capital murder. Therefore, the re introduction of the death penalty would not have had any affect whatsoever according to the National Parole Board.
No paroled murderers have been convicted of manslaughter, attempted murder or even wounding. Once again these are statistics which come from the parole board.
The simple truth is that the death penalty retentionists have no statistical evidence to support their contention that capital punishment is a deterrent to murder. Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, a long time advocate of capital punishment, has recently conceded that it is useless to argue for capital punishment on the basis of deterrence.
If an iron tight convincing argument cannot be made for the use of capital punishment as a deterrence, what then? I suppose it can be argued that in some cases it can be used in terms of vengeance, although I would hope that as a civilized society we have come further than the biblical adage, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".
This leads me to my second reason for not supporting capital punishment. I think it is morally wrong. I also do not support it on religious grounds. Proponents of the death penalty believe it is morally correct to kill murderers. One usually finds that such a position is derived from either a perceived moral imperative giving the state the right to kill in order to fulfil its obligations to protect its citizens, or from the oft quoted biblical precept I mentioned earlier, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth".
Besides confirming a mixed-up argument that it is morally right to kill someone in order to demonstrate that killing someone is wrong, there is the question of whether or not the death penalty actually does what its proponents tell us it does. New executions help to convince society that violence and murder are morally wrong. However, I believe that executions lead society to the completely opposite conclusion, and in a completely wrong direction. In effect, I believe it leads society to more violence and murder.
Some experts think that some people see an execution as a prescription and not a threat. In other words, he or she would think that if the state can do this why can't I do the same thing? There is a saying that the state affects the conduct and actions of its citizens more by the standards of its own behaviour than by the penalty it inflicts on others, and I believe that to be true. There is a danger in forgetting this point and charging on with the destructive course of action vindicated only by the declaration that it is morally correct.
Indeed, to reinstate the death penalty in Canada would be to place this country in the same dubious league as such regimes as Iran, South Africa, the Soviet Union and Saudi Arabia. It is important to note that apart from the United States, Ireland and Liechtenstein, all western industrialized countries have abolished the death penalty.
I do not believe that governments can use capital punishment as a means of protecting society. By using capital punishment to protect society, we degrade the very values that make society worth protecting. The execution of an individual is an act of violence, and as such it can never be moral in a society which supposedly abhors violence. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that violence tends to provoke further violence.
I believe it is the moral duty of the state to protect the lives of all persons within the jurisdiction of the state, without exception.
I am also opposed to capital punishment on religious grounds. It is perhaps more difficult to express one's feelings on capital punishment on religious grounds than on any other, the reason being that religious beliefs are so highly personal in nature. In making these remarks, I want it to be clear that I do not put down the points of view of others. I have Christian friends here in the House of Commons on both sides of this particular issue. The views I am about to express represent my
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personal feelings, and in making them I shall try not to be judgmental of others.
In considering this issue on religious grounds, one has to make certain assumptions, the first being that one believes in the Bible and in the significance of the life of Jesus Christ. If one believes in the Bible and in Jesus Christ, one should consider the issue of capital punishment in the light of the message of Jesus Christ, namely, the message of love.
Normally if one looks up to someone, one tries to imitate the life of that individual. In the case of Jesus Christ, of course, that is an impossibility. One could not even come close to imitating the life of Jesus Christ. However, one should do one's best to try to imitate the life of the individual to whom one looks up to. To do that, one needs to learn as much as one can about the life of that particular person. In the case of Jesus Christ, we read the Bible. An individual then, in one's own life, tries to show as much love, compassion and understanding in caring for one's fellow human beings as possible.
Of course, as I have already mentioned, in the case of trying to imitate the life of Jesus Christ, we will never succeed, nor do I think we were ever meant to succeed; but perhaps through studying His life, and our reflecting on His life and His character, we may be able to stretch ourselves toward His aims. By striving to imitate Him, we will become better human beings.
A good example of what can be achieved by imitating the life of Jesus Christ is the work and life of Mother Theresa.
In any event, if the life and message of Jesus Christ is the basis upon which one bases one's thoughts, then one has to ask how Jesus Christ would have dealt with this particular issue, or any other issue, and specifically how He would have voted were He here in Parliament casting a vote on capital punishment.
I believe that Jesus saw some good in every human being. It was His belief that every person had the potential to be rehabilitated, and had the right to be loved and to be cared for. No matter what a person had done, He would not wish to give up on them and simply turn them over to the state to be executed.
While there are passages in the Bible that seem to support the use of the death penalty, they are, in my opinion, at odds with the over-all emphasis on the sanctity of life that is expressed in the Bible. The message in the Bible is one of redemption, one of forgiveness. It is not one of vengeance.
The issue of capital punishment is, for me, a deeply moral and religious one. I could not vote in favour of capital punishment. Were I to do so, I could not live with myself and my beliefs.
The third argument against capital punishment is the everpresent possibility of a mistake being made. In our legal system, human error is inevitable. We all know that. While we may not want to admit it, we know that mistakes are inevitable. Usually a mistake made as part of the judicial process
can be revoked completely or in part. That is not so when an innocent person has been executed.
We can all name names and quote the well-known stories that serve to illustrate that particular point.
Capital punishment, being ultimate, being final, being irrevocable, is different from all other penalties. The death penalty has been set aside in nearly all of the forward-thinking countries of the world. Canada would be taking a step backwards if it were to reinstate capital punishment.
For all of the reasons I have enunciated, Mr. Speaker, I shall be voting against the resolution.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CAPITAL PUNISHMENT