The death penalty, which is otherwise referred to as capital punishment, is a government practice that involves an individual getting executed as a punishment for a crime. Laws on death penalty date back to the 18th century B.C. From the Code of King Hammurabi of Babylon, death penalty was excised on people found to have committed over twenty different offences (Mieroop106). The Draconian Code of Athens made death penalty the only punishment for all crimes in the seventh century B.C. The Twelve Tablets which was a Roman law in the fifth century B.C. also contained death penalty. During this ancient times, death penalty involved means such as burning, crucifixion, strangling, drowning and even being torn apart.
Death penalty is still a practice in some countries in the world and the sentence varies with the crime the individual is involved in. in some countries, individuals face death penalty for reasons like suffering mental illnesses, some for war crimes while others even desertion and mutiny in militaries. Death sentence in most cases usually involve imprisonment for several years on a death row without them knowing when they will be executed.
July 14, 1976
According to Amnesty International (Para 1), about 1,634 people in 25 countries were executed in 2015 which is a record figure in executions within 25 years. The death penalty has been viewed by many as being cruel and inhuman which has led to active controversies in various states and countries. About 102 countries have completely abolished the death penalty for all crimes. Six countries have abolished death penalty for the ordinary crimes while retaining it for some serious crimes like war crimes while 32 countries are in the process of abolishing it. Fifty-eight countries however have not abolished it and still maintain the practice (Futamura 157). [“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Many countries that have abolished it, Canada being one of them, have done it on the following grounds. It is viewed as being a way of denying one their human rights which in this case is the right to life. The death penalty was not found to deter crime as was the claim with some countries. It was also used as a political tool to eliminate the strong opponents or threats to the ruling government in some countries as a result it was abolished to prevent its illogical use by leaders. Other countries such as China and the United States still practice the death penalty for different crimes and purposes. This paper explores the removal or abolishment of death sentence in Canada.
The Abolishment of Death Penalty
Canada is among the many countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty. The last execution in Canada occurred on 11th December 1962 where two men faced death by hanging shortly after midnight. The practice was then abolished in 1976 by Parliament however; a section of the law, the National Defense Act, still provided execution under law. The remaining references were finally removed on 10th December 1998. This was as a result of the maximum sentence for 1st degree murder being reduced to a 25 years prison term. One could ask, what was transpiring during the period from 1962 to 1976 that made parliament abolish death penalty. During this period, there were some deciding factors that led to the abolishment. Below are the explanations to these issues.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
The abolishment of death penalty by the Canadian government was a gradual process which started from 1961 to 1976 which involved changes being made to the Criminal Code. It started with changing the criminal code to include classification of murder into capital and non-capital murder. Capital murder included murder of a police officer or prison warden, planned murder and murder committed during crime involving violence. Offenders of such crimes were therefore the only ones receiving death penalties and in 1962 Canada excised the last execution on capital murder.
In November 1967 the Canadian government introduced a five year experimental period during which death sentence was only for those convicted for the murder of police officers or prison wardens. During the same experimental period, crimes of premeditated murder and that committed during crimes that involved violence was removed from capital murder. The two crimes were then referred to as 1st and 2nd degree murder and manslaughter. This experimental period continued after its extension in 1973 until 14th July 1976 when the abolishment of death penalty was determined through a free vote with those for abolishment receiving 131 while those against having 124 votes (Clement 16).
Reasons for the Abolishment
Social movements in Canada also played a role in the process of abolishing the death penalty. Earlier on, before the 1930s, creation of social movements was a difficult task to perform. However, in the 1930s, social movements started emerging before getting absolute by 1950. The 1960s was marked by a new trend of movements which focused on advocating for tolerance and at the same time non-discrimination. These social movements gave birth to the Cultural Revolution of the 1970s which increased liberalization and at the same time an increase in law-breaking. During this period of Cultural Revolution (also referred to as the watershed for crime) crime rate was on the rise as a result of liberalization of the society (Turner 14). The Canadian government reacted towards this in the most unexpected way, instead of using the most severe forms of punishment for crimes such as robberies, it continued with the process of abolishing capital sentence.
Wrong conviction which is still common to date could have played part in the need to abolish the death penalty sentence. Rulings are always made based on applicable laws and rules. However, if all the rulings were made with finality as is the case with death penalties, then the result would be disastrous in the case where there are false convictions. The case of Steven Truscott is a good example. Steven while only 14 years was accused of murder and rape of Lynne Harper in 1959 (Kaufman 317). Based on the evidence at the time, which mainly was circumstantial, provided before the jury, Steven was found guilty of both the crimes and was to receive his death penalty by hanging. While still on his death row, Steven continued to make appeals given that the evidence provided was circumstantial and he had no involvement in the case. Though he did not receive the death penalty, he stayed in custody for 10 years and had to spend thirty years in jail before being set free. It can therefore be argued that Steven’s case played a part in the abolishment of death penalty. This incidence occurred during the time when changes were being made on the Criminal Code and so the impact of sentencing a Steven who was 14 basing on circumstantial evidence would receive special consideration.[Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
It could also be thought that theorists and their counterparts- the enlightenment thinkers- had a role to play in the abolishment of the death penalty. The theorists believed that there was need for a new system that could help in reforming those convicted rather than just punish them. The enlightenment thinkers on the other hand were against harsh penalties involving death punishments because they believed the society could be improved in other better ways. They would then form several movements in which they called for a penal reform. The theorists and the enlightenment thinkers helped in reducing the number of crimes that involved death penalty but cannot be seen to have directly resulted into the abolishment of death penalty in Canada (Skotnicki 132).
Contradictions on Why the Abolition Occurred
Since its abolishment in 1976, the support for abolition of the death penalty has witnessed fluctuations among different people in the government. On 30th June the year 1987, the abolition of death penalty was reaffirmed by a close vote of 148 against 127. Based on the two figures, we it is evident that the support by the government towards this form of punishment is not clear. The stand taken by the Canadian government is further seen to be less clear on the issue when they fail to sign and ratify the American Convention on Human Rights. On signing and ratifying the above mentioned would mean that Canada is not to carry out more death penalty punishments in the future, something that sends a message that the abolishment of the death penalty by the Canadian government is not a final decision.[Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
The Pact of San Jose, which is also referred to as the American Convention on Human Rights, was a treaty that was formed in 1969 but came into action on July 1978 when Canada’s abolishment of the death penalty was just two years old. The treaty when signed and reaffirmed to ensure that no citizen was to be arbitrarily denied life; the death penalty was to be used only on serious crimes for countries that had not abolished it completely. And for those countries that had abolished it, it was not to be reestablished once again (Forsythe 70).
Currently, the treaty has been signed by 19 countries and been ratified by 25 others though Canada is not among any of the two lists. This clearly implies that Canada does not want to be barred from reestablishing death penalty as is the requirement of the treaty. It therefore becomes contradictory on which basis did Canada decide to abolish the death penalty sentence. The abolishment of the death penalty therefore could mean that its result could not have been from the demand of a given group or the public since reinstatement of the policy is denied once again the second time in 1987 (Clement 16). Canada could therefore be waiting for a much mature system.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
Comparison of Canada to Other countries That Still Have Death Penalty
Canada is among the many countries in the world that have abandoned the death penalty as a form of punishment for crimes committed. Countries like the United States, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia are known for their staggering numbers of execution. Canada for instance, with a short 200 years of history, abandoned the death penalty more than 30 years ago. The United States on the other hand, though with longer history than Canada, still practices this inhumane act. Canada is therefore a country with more federal control in comparison to the United States. For the case of the United States, the states have just as much control as the federal government, thus some states actually abolished the death penalty, twenty in number, while the other thirty still have not done so.
The death penalty has existed for quite a long time. Efforts have been put in place by many governments either to include it in their laws while others to abolish it. Different governments view death penalties as ways of curbing some serious crimes by discouraging them through death sentences and executions. However, in some countries such as Canada, this has been abolished based on humanitarian grounds. The death penalty has received criticism from all over the world with many people having different reasons to oppose it.
March 21,1902, Hull, Quebec.
Majority believe that death sentence is a way of denying ones right to life and protection. The death penalty is thus viewed as cruel and denies one the due process of justice. It is not a viable form of crime control and therefore the need for its abolishment. On the contrary, other people believe that it should be kept in existence to reduce or discourage some serious crimes like murder and war crimes.
Amnesty International. “Death penalty 2015: Facts and figures.” Amnesty International,
Clement, David B. An Analysis of Disaster: Life after Gilbert. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Death Penalty 2015: Facts and Figures.” Home. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2016.
Forsythe, David P., and John Humphrey. Encyclopedia of Human Rights. Oxford: Oxford U, 2009. Print.
Futamura, Madoka, and Nadia Bernaz. The Politics of the Death Penalty in Countries in Transition. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Kaufman, Fred. Searching for Justice: An Autobiography. Toronto: Published for the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History by U of Toronto, 2005. Print.
Mieroop, Marc Van De. King Hammurabi of Babylon: A Biography. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2005. Print.
Skotnicki, Andrew. The Last Judgment: Christian Ethics in a Legal Culture. Farnham, Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2012. Print.
Turner, Francis J. Canadian Encyclopedia of Social Work. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2005. Print.