Between life and Death Row

Allan Fotheringham April 13 1987

Between life and Death Row

Allan Fotheringham April 13 1987

Between life and Death Row


Allan Fotheringham

We will make the argument first that the Mulroney government is not really as bad as it is painted. For all the talk of all the “scandals,” there really isn’t much that is all that serious. Tuna was a scandal? A trip to a nightclub was a scandal? There’s more fumbling in this government than there is corruption—a field in which the Liberals frolicked long ago.

There is something far more contemptible than tuna and nightspots, something much more despicable than exaggerated expense accounts. It is something more important than any of the above and it reveals a very sad side of this government. It is the sleazy, cynical, desperate appeal to the emotional cretins by launching the country on yet another massive debate on capital punishment. When the land cries for leadership, Western Canada still badly hurt by the world slump in resource prices, what is the Tory answer?

Bring back the noose. We are now about to be consumed by a silly, timewasting national argument on a barbaric custom that never will be approved again in Canada—all because the Tories are giving in to a small pocket of rightwing backbenchers who lust for revenge.

There will never be another Canadian citizen put to death by the state. John Diefenbaker predicted that, accurately, long ago. He was prime minister when two men were hanged back to back in Toronto’s Don Jail in 1962 and he said it would never happen again for the simple reason that any future prime minister would be faced with a paper sitting on his desk that needed only his signature to put a man to death and no PM would do that. It’s interesting that of the three past and present prime ministers sitting in the House of Commons today—Joe Clark, John Turner and Brian Mulroney—all have said they will vote against restoring the death penalty.

No one will be put to death for the

Allan Fotheringham is a columnist for Southam News.

simple reason that Canada, since 1976, has officially been in step with all the other civilized countries that have outlawed state-sanctioned murder. The world is now down to a minority of countries that actually carry out the death penalty. Do we really want to go backwards in history to join that sad band? Look at them. Iran heads the list of countries where executions were carried out last year. China executed more than 100 persons, the United States about 20. There have been executions in some Soviet bloc countries. And there are the Arabs, who chop off hands and

other things. That’s the gang we want to join?

Here is this Tory government, with more members in Parliament than any other in Canadian history. Acid rain prevails, free trade talks frighten Ontario, Washington ignores our claims to Arctic sovereignty—and what does the Tory backbench want to talk about? The noose. Shut out of cabinet and meaningful committee jobs because of their numbers, they want a toy to play with and so they want the country to think revenge.

If the death resolution (introduced by suddenly weak-looking deputy prime minister Don Mazankowski) passes, a Commons committee will then tour the country for 90 days to get more views (i.e. whip up more emotion). The legislation would then have to go through Commons and on to the Senate, a process that is estimated will take until the end of 1988. The chances are the whole thing will be talked out—and therefore die—when this Parliament ends with

an election. Is this really how we want to spend our next two years?

It’s the sick craving for revenge (the only excuse left for state killing) that is so disturbing. Bill Domm, the churchgoer from Peterborough who is the ; leader of the Tory neanderthals, brandishes his selected statistics, trying to prove that the murder rate is rising dangerously. It isn’t even rising; Statistics Canada shows that the homicide rate has fallen from 3.09 per 100,000 population in 1975 (a year before we officially banned the noose) to 2.19 by 1986.

Even Don Cassidy, chairman of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, says his group— while for capital punishment—has officially abandoned the deterrence argument.

Figures of course don’t matter, when revenge (i.e. blood) is the target. It’s interesting to note that while there were more homicides in Quebec last year than in any other province there are more Quebec Tories declared against the death penalty z (19), than for it (12.) The o support? From rural Ontario and solid (except for g Clark) Alberta. Mulroney,

“ to his shame, is desperately pandering to those voters by bringing forth a debate that will raise the heat, waste the headlines and, eventually, go nowhere. Does he really want to be the prime minister remembered as the one who restored execution? Of course not. This is spinning-wheels time, hoping for votes.

In the United States there are 37 states that now impose capital punishment. In the United States, blacks and other minorities, who make up 12 per cent of the population, for obvious economic and educational reasons make up 48 per cent of those on death row. Is that our model?

Has anyone tallied the percentage of Indians in our jails?

Most interesting details in this stupid debate are the poll figures showing that of the Canadians, red of fang, who want the death penalty only a few would return to hanging. They prefer a more “efficient” method such as lethal injection. Even they feel guilty. Even they are ashamed of what they advocate.