Canada’s Political Culture and its Influence on Capital Punishment I. INTRODUCTION TO CANADA’S POLITCIAL CULTURE AND ITS INFLUENCE ON LAWS PERTAINING TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT On July 14th, 1976, Bill C-84 was passed, which resulted in the abolition ofcapital punishment in Canada. Capital punishment, also known as the death penalty, isthe killing of an individual who has been tried and convicted guilty of committing aheinous crime. Ideologies surrounding the death penalty date back to 1772 B.C when282 Babylonian laws titled The Code of Hammurabi, were constructed. The Code ofHammurabi is where the “eye for an eye” theory of justice first resonated.
After Confederation in 1867, a revision of Canadian laws occurred and the deathpenalty was only applicable to three types of offences: murder, rape and treason.However, in 1976 the death penalty was abolished and replaced with mandatory lifesentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years. In order to bring military law andcivil law in line, capital punishment was also removed from the Canadian NationalDefence Act in 1998. The call for the abolition of the death penalty dates back to 1914 when MP RobertBickerdike presented a private member’s bill to end capital punishment. This bill was notpassed and was also rejected after several resubmissions (Renke and Gendreau, 2018).
Within the Canadian legal system, Canada’s political culture has a lasting influence on legislation regarding capital punishment. Liberalistic ideologies such asfundamental freedoms, the goals of the correctional system and the belief in learningfrom past mistakes have ultimately shaped the ways that Canadians view capitalpunishment. Opinions acknowledging the immorality of the death penalty have been discussedwithin Canadian politics for over one hundred years. Laws pertaining to capitalpunishment have transformed over the decades and there is no doubt that the evolutionof Canada’s political culture influenced this noteworthy change.
II. CANADA’S FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS: Capital punishment was first removed from the Canadian Criminal Code in 1976,but was fully abolished in 1998 when it was removed from the Canadian NationalDefence Act. The Constitution Act, which includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,holds an important role in Canada’s history. The Charter of Rights and freedoms outlinesimportant rights and freedoms that all Canadians are obligated to have. By creatingunification with military and civil law, Canada acknowledged the importance that theCharter of Rights and Freedoms holds in order to create a fair and just society. When the topic of reinstatement of the death penalty was brought to Parliament in 1987, majorityof members voted against this proposed bill.The Constitution Act: On April 17, 1982, under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government,Canada’s Constitution Act was signed.
This Act was established in order to createindependence from Britain and also includes the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whichoutlines fundamental rights that all Canadian citizens obtain. Within the Charter, thereare several fundamental freedoms which are outlined: “2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:(a) freedom of conscience and religion;(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of thepress and other media of communication;(c) freedom of peaceful assembly(d) freedom of association”(Canadian Charter, 1982, s 6(2)(b)). The implementation of the Charter of Rights and freedoms has strengthenedhuman rights for all Canadians and created an environment where citizens feel safe andwelcome.
The constitutionally protected right of freedom of conscience and religionexemplifies the acknowledgment of the sense of morality that surrounds many religions.Canada is not a country that has separation of church and state, as ideologies thatsurround Christianity have immensely influenced Canada’s constitution and stance onthe death penalty. A Reflection on Christianity: In 1971, Canada was 47% Catholic, 41% Protestant, 4% other religion and 4%unaffiliated (Pew Research Centre’s Religion & Public Life Project, 2018). Many pushedfor the abolition of the death penalty due to the belief that a human being does not havethe authority to take another human being’s life. Christianity is based on forgiveness andcompassion and many believe in God’s commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus21:13). This belief is also supported by many Canadians as it is believed that one cannotpunish a terrible act by ending the life of the person who has been charged. In Matthew5:39, Jesus says, “But I tell you, don’t resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you onyour right cheek, turn to him the other also”. The scripture can be interpreted as statingthat one should not retaliate against a person who has done them wrong by doing thesame act or worse.
Many may argue that justice is being served to those who committhese heinous crimes, but Catholic teachings express that ending one’s life after anothertaken is revenge, and does not bring justice to the life lost. Throughout history,politicians began to possess similar beliefs, thus creating a change within the CriminalCode in 1976. All in all, it is evident that Christian ideologies have influenced manyopinions and decisions made regarding capital punishment.The Question of Morality: Morality is centralized around the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong.Albert Camus, a french philosopher stated, “Capital punishment is the most premeditatedof murders” (Wiseoldsayings.
com, 2018). Through the understanding of morality, publichangings were changed to private hangings, lethal injection was established and then capital punishment was abolished all together. While the death penalty historically waspraised for serving “justice,” the concept receives scrutiny due to the fact that justice isnot being served at all. Many believe that God or a greater being should only be giventhe power to give and take lives. It is unjust for a human being to have the ability tochoose if another human being deserves to live or die. People cannot hold themselves tothe same standard as a god and make impactful decisions.
As a society, it is not our dutyto choose who deserves life, as this is immoral and wrong. III. THE GOALS OF THE CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM: In 1892, the Criminal Code of Canada was enacted by Parliament within theConstitution.
The Code outlines the purpose and principles of sentencing within theCanadian legal system. Minor revisions have been made to the Criminal Code in 1906,1927 and 1953.The Criminal Code: The Criminal Code serves an important purpose as it outlines punishments forcrimes, sentencing options and youth sentencing. An important aspect of The CriminalCode is the principles of sentencing. The Criminal Code states: “The fundamental purpose of sentencing is to protect society and to contribute,along with crime prevention initiatives, to respect for the law and themaintenance of a just, peaceful and safe society by imposing just sanctions thathave one or more of the following objectives (a) to denounce unlawful conduct and the harm done to victims or to thecommunity that is caused by unlawful conduct;(b) to deter the offender and other persons from committing offences;(c) to separate offenders from society, where necessary; (d) to assist in rehabilitating offenders;(e) to provide reparations for harm done to victims or to the community; and(f) to promote a sense of responsibility in offenders, and acknowledgment of theharm done to victims or to the community”(Laws-lois.
justice.gc.ca, 2018) Rehabilitating Offenders: Over the years, many began to realize that capital punishment failed to meet thecommitment of the Criminal Code, as those who committed crimes were notrehabilitated and crime rates were still skyrocketing. One of the main objections withsentencing is to not provide a sense of “revenge,” but to rehabilitate criminals in orderfor them to lead civilized lives in prison, and within society if they are released.
Afterabolishing the death penalty, a change in legislation was made on April 1, 2003 thatcontinues to impact the youth across Canada. The Youth Criminal Justice Act wasimplemented in order to emphasize the importance of rehabilitation for youth agedtwelve to eighteen. Repercussions are given to youth who commit crimes, however themajor focus is rehabilitation in order for the youth to become civilized adults who areable to re-enter society and serve a purpose.
Since the implementation of this Act, thenumber of youth in custody has greatly decreased (Refer to Index, Chart 1). Correctional Services Canada states that rehabilitation is a priority as there are different programscreated that help rehabilitate men, women and those of aboriginal descent (Csc-scc.gc.ca, 2018).Decrease in Crime Rates: According to Statistics Canada, Canada’s crime rates have been decreasing overthe past two decades. From 1962 to 1991, the crime rate began to increase steadily butthen drastically declined.
In 2013, crime was reported to be at its all-time low since 1969(Refer to Index, Chart 2). There is no doubt that the abolition of capital punishment hasled to decreased crime rates, as life sentences encourage individuals to rethinkcommitting heinous crimes due to the extensive time that will be spent in prison. Through the evaluation of the Criminal Code, the emphasis on rehabilitation andthe decrease in crime rates, it is evident that the death penalty contradicts the politicalvalues that has shaped Canada into the liberalistic country that it is. IV. REFLECTING ON HISTORIC ERROR: It is important to reflect on historic events in order to plan for a future withoutreoccurring issues. According to Correctional Services Canada, the main goals of thecorrectional system is to protect and serve society (Csc-scc.gc.ca, 2018).
The system alsofights to protect those who are innocent in order to avoid wrongful convictions. Severalmiscarriages of justice have tarnished the reputation of the Canadian justice system.Canada works towards implementing a just society where wrongful conviction does notoccur and human rights are applied to all citizens. Causes of Wrongful Conviction: Within the past, there were many wrongful convictions in Canada that haveplaced innocent individuals on death row for years. Not only does this waste away yearsof a person’s life, but it also ends the investigation of the crime.
This causes actualcriminals to remain free and potentially commit more crimes. There are many causes ofwrongful conviction, such as eye witness identification errors, false jailhouse informanttestimonies, false confessions, tunnel vision, systemic discrimination, errors withinforensic science and professional misconduct (Aidwyc.org, 2018). When wrongfulconvictions are exonerated, it costs the government millions of dollars to compensate theinnocent individual. We do not know if all people who were executed in the past were infact guilty.
Innocence Canada, an organization committed to exonerating those who werewrongfully accused has successfully exonerated 21 individuals. If the death penalty wasin action, these 21 people may have been put to death for a crime they did not commit.The Last Hangings in Canada: Interestingly enough, one of the last hangings in Canada raises an extensiveamount of doubt regarding guilt. Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were the last menexecuted in Canada in 1963. Criminal-turned-police informant, Therland Crater andprostitute, Carolyn Newman were found brutally murdered in a home in Toronto.
Lucaswas tried for Crater’s murder in front of an all white jury and although he knew Crater,evidence was circumstantial and the witness was unreliable. Lucas’ hanging became anear decapitation and for years there was no media coverage regarding this incident. Being one of the last hangings in Canada, we do not know if Lucas was truly guilty orinnocent.R. v. Steven Murray Truscott: A notable wrongful conviction that occurred in Canada was the case of R. v.Steven Murray Truscott.
Steven Truscott was a fourteen year old boy who was convictedof murdering a young girl named Lynne Harper. On the evening of June 9, 1959, Stevengave Lynne Harper a ride to a street corner on his bicycle and then parted ways. Twodays later the body of Harper was found brutally murdered, sexually assaulted andstrangled in the nearby woods. The Crown’s theory was that Truscott did not drop heroff, but raped and murdered her instead. Steven always insisted that he was innocent,but was tried for the murder and sentenced to death by hanging. He applied for anappeal that was denied, however he was able to receive a sentence of life in prisoninstead of the death penalty. After ten years of incarceration, he was released on parole.Truscott fought for nearly fifty years in order to clear his name of this charge.
Factorsincluding lack of DNA evidence, eyewitness identification error and misconduct from theprosecution team ultimately led to Truscott’s falsified conviction. Fresh evidence waspresented to the courts proved that Truscott was innocent. After spending half a centuryas an innocent man who was stigmatized as a deranged rapist and murderer, the Ontariogovernment recognized Truscott’s wrongful conviction in 2008. They grated him $6.5million in order to compensate for his time spent in prison alongside the negativeconnotation associated with his name (Innocence Canada, 2018).
Even so, monetarycompensation cannot heal all wounds. If Truscott was not granted life in prison instead of the death sentence, he too would have been one of many innocent men put to deathfor a crime he did not commit. Canada is a country that often apologizes for errors made within the past in orderto move forward towards a better future. The abolition of the death penalty has helpedcreate a just society where individuals cannot potentially be executed for a crime theydid not commit. Through the evolution of the laws regarding capital punishment, it isevident that Canada’s liberalistic ideal of reflecting on the past for a better future hasimpacted the decision to abolish the death penalty. V.
CONCLUSION: CANADA’S POLITCIAL CULTURE AND ITS INFLUENCE ON LAWS PERTAINING TO CAPITAL PUNISHMENT Attitudes, beliefs and ideologies create meaning and order for political processes.These ideologies influence the creation of laws, which govern the political system(Encyclopedia.com, 2018). When Bill C-84 was passed on July 14th, 1976, the lawspertaining to capital punishment in Canada changed forever. Canada’s political culture influenced the abolition of the death penalty and the latercreation of the Constitution Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Thesefundamental freedoms are apart of Canada’s belief in justice and human rights.
As well,ethical, philosophical and religious values have raised many doubts regarding capitalpunishment. Ideologies surrounding the death penalty have shaped the laws regardingcapital punishment through the evaluation of morality. Through the reflection of historic error, the Canadian government has created laws and legislation in order to avoidwrongful conviction and promote rehabilitation. Through the expansion and influence of political culture in Canada, manyideologies have influenced change that will forever mark Canada’s history. Liberalisticideals such as fundamental freedoms, the goals of the correctional system and the beliefin learning from historic error have changed the ideologies surrounding capitalpunishment. The influence of Canada’s political culture abolished the death penalty andput capital punishment behind us. While the justice system began with the saying, “Aneye for an eye,” it has greatly evolved.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye foran eye makes the whole world blind.” The importance of fairness, peace, justice, andequality are important subjects that Canada vows to sustain within society.