Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Say No To Capital Punishment

Two little words this morning prove why Capital Punishment, murder by the state , is never justified.

Steven Truscott.

For fifty years he awaited justice, while the justice system failed him and Lynne Harper the victim of a brutal rape murder. This morning the Ontario Court of Appeal acquitted him.

Acquittal, but not innocence, likely for Truscott

Sentenced to death in 1959 for the murder of a 12-year-old, there is no avenue for the Canadian legal system to declare him innocent

The real sexual predator who brutally raped and murdered Lyn escaped justice, while Truscott suffered from a justice system that saw him as their best bet for conviction and would not be deterred by facts to the contrary.

Fifty years, the life of a man, to appeal an injustice, resulted finally in justice being served. Truscott is an excellent case for why capital punishment is never justified, it is an irreversible judgment.

No other crime in Canada has divided public opinion as much as the tragic story of the June 9, 1959, murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper, for which Truscott, then 14, was ultimately convicted. He was the youngest person ever sentenced to death in Canada (his death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment). Still protesting his innocence, he began serving his sentence. His appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal was dismissed. Leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied.

Public opinion ran passionately in favour of his guilt. Pierre Berton had written a sympathetic verse in this very paper a week after the trial and later said he had never known a more violent response to any column he had ever written.

He was called "a sob sister for a monster" and callers expressed the hope that his own daughter would soon be raped. Yet, seven years later, the tide of opinion shifted spectacularly.

The public came to believe that Steven's trial suffered from serious deficiencies, questionable expert testimony and unfairness to the accused. The case was discussed everywhere, including the House of Commons. All because of Isabel LeBourdais, who had published The Trial of Steven Truscott in March 1966. The book was a passionate, emotional defence of Steven Truscott and a scathing denunciation of his trial. She was named woman of the year by The Canadian Press.

Isabel LeBourdais, whose book raised questions about the Truscott investigation, talks with Steven Truscott in 1968 outside Collins Bay Penitentiary.

The doubts raised by the book and the language in which these doubts were framed struck a nerve deep in the Canadian consciousness. As a result of the book, the minister of justice, for the first time in Canadian history, directed a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada as to the propriety of the conviction. It is also the first time in which that court heard live testimony.

The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on May 4, 1967, but doubts remained. Justice Emmett Hall, one of the most eminent judges of the court, wrote a powerful, passionate and stinging dissent and would have directed a new trial. He sharply criticized the conduct of the Crown. An already inflamed public, he said, was further inflamed by the Crown's improper suggestions and the trial judge's improper charge to the jury. Many Canadians believed that of the nine judges on the Supreme Court, only Justice Hall got it right.

Because of the Truscott Case capital punishment in Canada was reconsidered and eventually removed from the criminal code.

Canada banned the death penalty because of fears about wrongful convictions, concerns about the state taking the lives of individuals, and uncertainty about the death penalty's role as a deterrent for crime.

The case of Steven Truscott, who was just 14 years old when convicted of a murder that many continue to believe he did not commit, was a significant impetus (although certainly not the only one) toward the abolishment of capital punishment.

The return to having Capital Punishment in the criminal code is a platform from the old Reform Party that is the base of the Harper Conservatives. And it came up in the Conservative Leadership race.

Tony Clement declared that he believes that capital punishment should be an option for extreme cases. "My personal view is that in the case of serial killers and murderers of police officers, for instance, that it would be appropriate in those circumstances". -- Tony Clement

This decision should bury that forever. But if it doesn't then my reply to the Law and Order right wingers who endlessly lobby for state murder, will forever remain two little words; Steven Truscott.

The first private bill calling for abolition of the death penalty was introduced in 1914. In 1954, rape was removed from capital offenses. In 1956, a parliamentary committee recommended exempting juvenile offenders from the death penalty, providing expert counsel at all stages of the proceedings and the institution of mandatory appeals in capital cases.

Between 1954 and 1963, a private member's bill was introduced in each parliamentary session calling for abolition of the death penalty. The first major debate on the issue took place in the House of Commons in 1966. Following a lengthy and emotional debate, the government introduced and passed Bill C-168, which limited capital murder to the killing of on-duty police officers and prison guards.

Contrary to predictions by death penalty supporters, the homicide rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year (from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7). Over the next 20 years the homicide rate fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend was clearly downwards. It reached a 30-year low in 1995 (1.98) -- the fourth consecutive year-to-year decrease and a full one-third lower than in the year before abolition. In 1998, the homicide rate dipped below 1.9 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the 1960s.

The overall conviction rate for first-degree murder doubled in the decade following abolition (from under 10% to approximately 20%), suggesting that Canadian juries are more willing to convict for murder now that they are not compelled to make life-and-death decisions.

All of Canada's national political parties formally oppose the reintroduction of the death penalty, with the exception of the Reform Party which supports a binding national referendum on the issue.

The debate over capital punishment was renewed once again in 1984. There was a free vote in the House of Commons on the topic in 1987. Supporters of capital punishment narrowly lost the vote, 148 to 127. The Bill to reintroduce capital punishment came from Conservative backbencher Gordon Taylor. Taylor initially introduced the Bill to reinstate capital punishment for Clifford Olson in 1986 but the Speaker of the House refused the Bill, as a law cannot be passed relating to a specific person. Taylor therefore changed the Bill to cover all those convicted of first degree murder and mass murders. In the end though, the Bill was not successful.

The debate concerning capital punishment is far from over, and it is an issue that is not likely to end in the near future. For now though, the debate seems to be dormant. Yet at a time when Canadians are demanding that criminals be held accountable for their actions and that justice be put back into the justice system, it is not likely that the call for the reinstatement of capital punishment will ever go away. Poll after poll shows that Canadians support the use of capital punishment in certain circumstances, but the political will is simply not there. The recent acts of terrorism in the United States might spur a renewed call for capital punishment, even if only for terrorist murders.

In 1976, capital punishment was removed from Canada's Criminal Code. After years of debate, Parliament decided that capital punishment was not an appropriate penalty. The reasons for this decision were due to the possibility of wrongful convictions, concerns about the state taking the lives of individuals, and uncertainty as to the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent.

  • In 1961, legislation was passed which reclassified murder into capital and non-capital offences. Capital murder referred to planned or deliberate murder, murder that occurred during the course of other violent crimes, or the murder of a police officer or prison guard. At this time, only capital murder was punishable by death.
  • On December 10, 1962, Arthur Lucas and Robert Turpin were the last people to be executed in Canada.
  • In 1967, a bill was passed that placed a moratorium on the use of the death penalty, except in cases involving the murder of a police officer or corrections officer.
  • On July 14, 1976, with the exception of certain offences under the National Defence Act, the death penalty was abolished in Canada. The bill, C-84, passed by a narrow margin on a free vote.
  • In 1987, a free vote regarding the reinstatement of the death penalty was held in the House of Commons. The result of the vote was in favour of maintaining the abolition of the death penalty, 148 to127.
  • In 1998, Parliament removed the death penalty with the passing of An Act to Amend the National Defence Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, S.C. 1998 c. 35.
  • In Canada, the abolition of the death penalty is considered to be a principle of fundamental justice. Canada has played a key role in denouncing the use of capital punishment at the international level.
  • The Supreme Court of Canada has held that prior to extraditing an individual for a capital crime, Canada must seek assurances, save in exceptional circumstances from the requesting state that the death penalty will not be applied.


Saddam and the CIA

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Barbara's Journey Toward Justice said...

You have a wonderful blog. I am very happy with the news about Steven Truscott. May God Bless him and his family. About me, my blog says it all. We need to let the world know, No Death Penalty.

eugene plawiuk said...

Thanks for the comment. And I hope this case will be used in the U.S. to show the idiocy of your death penalty laws.