COVER

DOUBTS AND DIVISIONS

JOHN BARBER June 29 1987
COVER

DOUBTS AND DIVISIONS

JOHN BARBER June 29 1987

DOUBTS AND DIVISIONS

COVER

Among the three out of five Canadians who either solidly support bringing back capital punishment or who lean toward that position, there is no clear-cut profile of a typical defender. Nor is there a typical abolitionist. But in their broadest outlines, based on The Maclean’s/Decima Poll and follow-up interviews with 40 of the 1,500 respondents, the two groups illustrate a clearcut Canadian duality.

The person most likely to voice the majority position in favor of capital punishment is an English-speaking Protestant from the West who votes Conservative. And the person most likely to oppose the death penalty is a French-speaking Roman Catholic who lives in Quebec and votes Liberal. Said Michael Stasiuk, 47, a drywaller from Chilliwack, B.C., who says that he favors the death penalty: “Generally, the way things have been going, nothing else is going to deter them. The system is too lenient on criminals.”

But Gérard Dutil, 49, a printer from Sherbrooke,

Que., declared: “The Bible says I shouldn’t kill, so I see no justification for doing it.”

‘Vital’: But more striking than their differences are the views that both sides share—mainly the belief that violent crime is on the rise and that the current justice system is incapable of stemming it. “I believe strongly that every life is vital and should be preserved,” said Frank Crockett, 59, a retired public relations consultant from Winnipeg who, despite his belief in the sanctity of human life, says that he reluctantly supports a return to capital punishment. That ambivalence turns up constantly beneath Canadians’ basic positions on capital punishment. And as well as covering the topics of language, regionalism, politics and religion, The Maclean’s/Dedma Poll provided relevant

data on the way in which respondents’ opinions related to such factors as sex, education and levels of income.

Overall, only 37 per cent of those polled said that the death penalty should be brought back, with 24 per cent leaning toward that stand. Roughly 85 per cent of those people said that violent crime and murder have increased over

the past decade—but so do 72 per cent of those who oppose restoring the death penalty. And four out of every five Canadians who are against capital punishment say that murderers are being released from prison too soon.

Firm: The most striking differences in opinion are drawn largely on linguistic and regional lines, with the firmest abolitionists speaking French and living in Quebec. Thirty-two per cent of French Canadians said that Parliament should

reinstate the death penalty, compared with 38 per cent of English Canadians. But although 45 per cent of English Canadians said that the state should not take a life under any circumstances, a significantly higher number of French Canadians—61 per cent—voiced that opinion. The regional divisions are even more telling: 72 per cent of people living on the Prairies said either that they favor capital punishment or are leaning toward it, compared with only 51 per cent of Quebecers. And although 73 per cent of Quebecers said that violent crime has increased recently, 89 per cent of those in Prairie provinces agreed.

Wrong: Religion also has a bearing on attitudes about the death penalty, with Protestants in general—and Anglicans in particular—more likely to favor it than Catholics. Fifty-six per cent of Catholics said that it is wrong to kill in any circumstances, compared with 42 per cent of Protestants and 41 per cent of Anglicans. As well, far more Anglicans said that they favor the restoration of corporal punishment than Catholics: 46 per cent compared with 30 per cent.

Education and sex both evidently helped to determine poll respondents’ opinions. Sixtyfour per cent of those I with some high-school ^ education said either a that they favor or are leaning toward the death penalty, compared with 56 per cent of university graduates and only 48 per cent of those with postgraduate degrees. Forty-one per cent of men said that the government should reinstate capital punishment, compared

with 32 per cent of women. Although roughly equal numbers of men and women said that they are either leaning away from capital punishment or are flatly opposed to it, on the other side of the issue the sexes are divided by their degree of certainty: 28 per cent of wom-

en said that they are leaning toward the death penalty compared with 19 per cent of men. As well, more women than men—51 per cent compared with 46 per cent—said that it is wrong to take a life under any circumstances. And 83 per cent of women, compared with 75 per cent of men, said that they are concerned about the possibility of executing innocent people.

Among the 37 per cent of respondents who most strongly supported the death penalty, pollsters found that many expressed mixed feelings. Anne-Marie Lallemand, 38, an esthetician from St. Jean sur Richelieu, Que., said that she is against capital punishment because of the chance that an innocent person might be killed and because “it is a very primitive way to carry out justice.” But despite that, Lallemand said that she favors bringing back the death penalty for serious crimes. The poll showed that although 78 per cent of respondents favored executing child-murderers, only 28 per cent supported the death penalty for people who had killed someone during a domestic dispute.

Disgust: Those most in favor of capital punishment expressed the greatest disgust with what they said is a growing wave of violence engulfing Canadian society.

Declared Cyril Hynes Jr. of St. John’s, Nfld.: “It seems like there’s no slowing down the crime rate in the past 10 years, especially dealing with murder and terrorism.

The law nowadays just protects the guilty, so I figure capital punishment might just switch a few heads.” Almost without exception, people most in favor of capital punishment cited B.C. serial murderer Clifford Olson. Said Wallace MacRae, 75, a retired truck driver from Hudson’s Hope, B.C.: “He should be taken out and hung, shot or drowned in public.”

Outrage over a legal system that many respondents said is lax extended beyond the ranks of those who said that they favor the death penalty. At the same time, 67 per cent of those who favor executions said that they are concerned that they might result in the death of innocent people. But the one measure that most clearly separates the two camps is belief in capital punish-

ment as a deterrent to potential murderers. Eighty per cent of those who favor the death penalty said that it will deter murder, compared with 37 per cent of those who oppose capital punishment. And regardless of their basic opinion on capital punishment, 71 per cent of people with household incomes under $10,000 a year said that they believe in deterrence, as opposed to 61 per cent of those earning $20,000 to $29,000 and 50 per cent of those earning $50,000 or more. In addition, the view is held by 75 per cent of high-school dropouts but only 37 per cent of university graduates.

Crimes: Housewife Ramona Chapman, 27, of Moncton, N.B., said that she

favors capital punishment but is ambivalent on the question of deterrence. “I’m not sure whether it would deter anyone,” she said. “You hear about three different stories on the news. But it might.” Added Lynn Strang, 41, a Shelburne, N.S., court clerk who said that she supports capital punishment: “I know there are arguments both ways, but I do feel it would be a deterrent. It’s just got to be. Either capital punishment, or maybe much longer sentences with hard labor.” But one man with special credentials disagreed with that view. He is Allan Ryder, an animal breeder from Toronto, who has spent more than 18 of his 42 years in jail for

various violent crimes, including attempted murder. Said Ryder: “When I was 16 or 17, before Trudeau turned over the capital punishment law, it didn’t deter criminals. They were still out there doing it.”

In addition to their views on deterrence, abolitionists and those leaning toward abolition are most likely to state their concern that innocent people could be executed if the death penalty is restored. Said Raymond Lawrence of Victoria, a retired civil servant: “There have been so many wrongful convictions, and until we have no more I don’t think we have the slightest justification for capital punishment.”

Yolande Rigolet, 27, a homemaker from Ladysmith, B.C., declared: “One doesn’t prove killing is wrong by killing other people. People seem to want to bring back capital punishment because murderers are let out too soon. If that is the case, the system must be changed, but we don’t need the restoration of the death penalty.” Although The MacZecm’s/Decima Poll on capital punishment indicates that most Canadians disagree with that conclusion, it also shows that the country is almost unanimous in the belief that the criminal justice system is badly in need of reform.

—JOHN BARBER in Toronto