COVER

Death renews penalty debate

ROBERT BLOCK October 1 1984
COVER

Death renews penalty debate

ROBERT BLOCK October 1 1984

Death renews penalty debate

The bloody confrontation began in a suburban Toronto parking lot last week. Not long after midnight a young man dressed in combat boots, army fatigues and a black headband—and carrying a semiautomatic rifle-commandeered a black Toyota from a terrified couple and drove away. Policemen soon spotted the stolen car and ordered the driver to pull over. As the policemen were getting out of their cruiser he opened fire, spraying the car with bullets and fatally wounding Const. David Dunmore, 40, a father of three. Within minutes police reinforcements had arrived, and in the ensuing shootout the rifleman was killed and two more police officers were wounded.

Police identified the killer as Gary White, 18, who had lived with his uncle in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke after the break-up of his parents’ marriage about three years ago. White had been working part-time at his uncle’s gas station while attending high school and had also trained with a militia of the Royal Regiment of Canada last winter before being discharged for poor attendance. But the young man kept his fatigue uniform and he had access to his uncle’s collection of more than 25 guns and rifles—including the murder weapon, a Belgian-made semiautomatic rifle, which is available in military surplus stores to people with permits.

Friends of the slain killer told police that White was obsessed by the Sylvester Stallone movie First Blood, in which a Vietnam special forces veteran goes on a police killing spree. The shootout prompted a new appeal for reinstitution of hanging by Toronto police chief Jack Marks, who insisted that “the issue of reinstalling the death penalty should be decided by the people of this country.” Canada’s last hanging took place in Toronto in 1962. After 1967 hanging was retained on the books only for the murder of police or prison guards. Capital punishment in Canada was finally completely abolished in 1976.

During last summer’s election campaign Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who personally opposes capital punishment, said that he would not object to putting the question before Parliament again. But other members of the Mulroney cabinet, including Solicitor General Elmer MacKay, and many of the 71 Tory back-benchers support capital punishment. If any more police officers are shot, it may not be long before Parliament—and Canadians as a whole —will have to ponder the whole agoniz-

ing question anew.

ROBERT BLOCK