02.08.2012 09:55 AM

The ultimate penalty

I’ve dodged this subject on this web site for many years.  Here’s why.

If someone killed someone I love, I’d want to kill them with my bare hands.  If someone kills a child, with malice aforethought, I’d want to see them receive the same treatment. That’s the emotional reality, I guess.

Here’s the non-emotional reality, in the form of a short tale.  In my first year of law school in Calgary, in Criminal Law, our wonderful prof, Chris Levy, asked us who favoured the death penalty.  Most of the hands in the classroom went up.  Being a Democrat of long-standing, I – like Bill Clinton, like Barack Obama – put my hand up for that one, too.

Here’s what Prof. Levy said next:  “I will ask you again in your final year.”

And he did.  In 1987, after three years of trying to learn the law – and, in my case, I had spent a lot of time on the study of criminal law – Prof. Levy asked again for a show of hands.  “Who favours the death penalty, now?”

And not a single hand went up.

What you learn in law school, more than anything else, is how completely flawed our system is.  You learn that it is in need of continual improvement, and that it fundamentally flawed, much like the human beings who created it.

Reason over passion, Trudeau said.  It’s not the world we live in, but it’s the world we should aspire to, I think.

There, I’ve come clean.  Now, what do you think?

96 Comments

  1. kenzo's says:

    I emphatically hold my hand up in support of your (nicely articulated) position.

  2. John Guthro says:

    its a tough call, I guess the question is, are people born passionate or reasonable? And how does the social engineering happen if we are a passionate entity?

  3. Brad Young says:

    I have seen a two documentarys where they follow an execution from both sides. The family of the victim always says it will give them closure, prior to the execution. Even after witnessing the execution, they seem to come across as feeling cheated. They sat there, the person died, it didn’t seem to help them at all. I recall them saying he just went to sleep and died, I guess it wasn’t what they expected.

    I am not in favour.

  4. Chris P says:

    Fully Against It –

    Death is the ultimate form of punishment. If it was successfull in being a deterent to violent crime (i.e murder) than those US states that have capital punishment would see violent crimes decrease, murders end etc. Neither of which is the case – murders/violent crime will continue to happen this is as you note Warren nothing but a ‘thirst for blood’ for ‘revenge’ and only heightens the violence in our society.

    Some notable quotes http://www.notable-quotes.com/d/death_penalty_quotes.html:

    “For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists.”

    ALBERT CAMUS, Resistance, Rebellion and Death

    “I know something about killing. I don’t like killing. And I don’t think a state honors life by turning around and sanctioning killing. Now, that’s just a personal belief that I have.”

    JOHN KERRY, Wolf Blitzer Reports, CNN, Sep. 17, 1996

  5. Nasty Bob says:

    Killing people is bad so we should kill the killers.
    Who was it that said ” vengeance is mine” ? Oh yeah, it was the back bench of the Conservative party

  6. Neil says:

    I am opposed to it. It is a cruel and unusual punishment. I remember reading an article by an inmate on death row asking to be taken and thrown out of a plane without a parachute. He asked for the qualatative difference between that and being strapped down and a needle injected in your arm, I felt he had a point.
    I also wonder what happens to a socisety that wrongfully executes someone. Should that society then be guilty of manslaghter? What is the penalty? Has that society then lost the moral authority to govern?
    If someone hurt, let alone killed my wife or children I would want to respond with hellfire and kill them and piss on their ashes, does that make me right and justified, or Al Capone. As far as I see it, the killing of another person is always morally wrong. Sometimes it is neccesary, (self defence) but it is still wrong. Executions are never neccesary just sometime expediant or vengence.
    In truth it is my litmus test for right wingers. If they are anti abortion but pro death penalty, I probably do not want to talk to them. If they are unimpeachable on human life then I can have some respect for them and while I do not share their politics I can at least talk to them.

    • Bill says:

      Very interesting. What if your daughter is raped and murdered, the murders gets out in 13 years and repeats the process. This type of stuff happens today. I’m not sure if cruel and unusual punishment caring should apply to someone like this.

      • Justin says:

        And here is the ‘what if’ parable spewed out by the conservative party horde. The problem is emotions, I find many people get emotionally invested in stories of crime that have nothing to do with them. I don’t mean to sound crass, but as a collective society we must support the victim in any way possible but to scream revenge makes us no better than the perpetrator.

        • Bill says:

          Justin, this is not a “what if” scenario. This is a reality, occurring in Canada today. In most cases the offender is back in society much sooner then 25 years. “The problem is emotions”…….are you joking, the problem has nothing to do with emotions. You sound like someone who hasn’t experienced a serious crime involving people you love. Your a lucky man.

          • Justin says:

            Have you? You sound like another SUN board commenter, “hang em high!” The stats are there buddy, the chance of me or you in any way, shape or form being affected by violent crime is slim to none.

      • Ted B says:

        What part of his daughter’s life is saved by the state killing the killer?

      • Philip says:

        What if your daughter is never raped and murdered? That is an equally valid hypothesis.

        • Bill says:

          Your suggesting this never happens, that’s a strange response. You can’t pretend these thing don’t happen.

          • kenzo's says:

            but you can’t pretend that the death penalty is gonna prevent future crimes from happening. It won’t and it never has. And if you try to shove Saudi Arabia in our faces we will just point you to the USA where the state still regularly kills and they have far far worse violent crime rates than we do- or any other western democracy (almost all of whom have abolished it.)

          • Philip says:

            It’s no more strange than your hypothetical question. Are you denying that billions of people live their entire lives without being raped and/or murdered?

            I get it bill, you want the state to conduct your revenge killing for you. I don’t want the state to do any revenge killing at all.

  7. dave says:

    I read somewhere that when a Justice David Corrie retired from the SCC he suggested that people in the Canadian justice system should always keep in mind the names Milgaard, Sophonow, and Marshall ( I think those were the names he mentioned). Association For The Wrongly Convicted could add more names to that list. When I was a teen, a buddy of mine lost a younger relative in a murder. another young neighbour was charged, convicted, and sentenced to hang. There always seemd to me to be something wrong with the investigation, trial, conviction and sentence.
    Of course, had the sentence been carried out, it would have been over.
    Decades later, I sent in an affidavit for an appeal. When I read what one side did with my affidavit, I was struck by the dishonesty of that side.
    Our courts (and House of Commons) use an adversarial system, almost an artificial setting up so that there are (only) two opposing versions of anything (not many versions – only two), and one side is going to win, the other side is going to lose. There sometimes seem to be greater rewards for winning that there are for providing the court with truth.
    I wonder if there are ways to change the rewards so that getting at the truth is more likely.
    Our justice system also loses when money and power politics has too much of an influence.
    Didn’t George Bernard Shaw say something about being for capital punishment, just as soon a a fair justice system was in place?

  8. Joel Bernard says:

    So Warren, what you are saying is that you drank the white wine socialist Kool-Aid. Yes, funny guy, the system is flawed but to allow murderers a free education for their crime is flawed too, wouldn’t you say?

  9. Tdotlib says:

    Any system that would allow an innocent person to be executed is not one that can have the ability to execute.

    You and I agree on this one WK.

  10. HonestB says:

    There are, I think, a few questions that should be asked about any criminal penalty:

    1. Is it an effective deterrent against others committing the crime?
    The answer, research shows, is no, in this case. In general, deterrence hasn’t really held up as a theory when held up to scrutiny.

    2. Will it prevent this person from committing crime in the future?
    Since we’re talking about murder, this is kind of a moot point. Yes, killing someone will make certain that they don’t go out and commit more crime, but so will a mandatory life sentence. And while I’m generally against long prison sentences, I think murder is the obvious exception.

    3. Will it help the victim in any way?
    The victim of a murder is beyond helping, and their family and loved ones aren’t going to get that person back no matter what you do to the killer.

    Beyond that, I think it does real damage to a society’s values when you give the state the power to kill people in a premeditated way for any reason. The idea that executions, in some states, are things that you can go watch happen strikes me as simply disgusting on a really visceral level. To me, the idea of state-sanctioned killing isn’t compatible with living in a democracy.

    That’s before you even get into wrongful convictions which, though fortunately rare in this country, do happen. Anyone who supports the death penalty is saying that it’s okay to kill an innocent person every now and then. The only word I can think of describe that kind of a position is barbarism. It’s the modern equivalent of putting heads on pikes.

  11. Philippe says:

    I think that having someone rot away in jail for the rest of their lives is harsher justice than taking their life.

    Also, I leave it to the morally superior, all-knowing conservatives to “play god”. We don’t have that right.

    • Jon Powers says:

      By “morally superior, all-knowing conservatives” I guess you mean anyone who doesn’t agree with you?
      Anyways, I consider myself to be Christian, and as such, I don’t see how I could morally condone it. Too many conservatives use the “eye for an eye” line, but the most over riding tone of the Christianity should be one of compassion and forgiveness. I’m not for a second suggesting that I would ever be able to forgive someone for killing a loved one – I’m sure I would, like Warren, be willing to kill with my bare hands. And while that feeling is justifiable, I don’t think it is morally defensible.
      That being said, I am too much of flawed human being. You wouldn’t see me at a candle light vigil if the state decided to end Russell Williams’ life. I suppose that makes me a bit of a hypocrate. So be it.

      • Philippe says:

        I agree with your logic. However, my perspective is that whether it be Russell Williams, or any other monster, the same rules must apply without exception. We either kill for vengeance, or we don’t. I think that condoning an “eye for an eye” is a slippery slope. We teach our children that violence doesn’t solve anything, yet some are in favour of state sanctioned killing? Mind you, I’ve never lost a close member of my family in such a way – who knows how I would react.

        In some middle eastern countries, a person caught stealing has their hand cut-off. Is that also justifiable? My bet is that most in the west call would that barbaric (I certainly do). How is killing someone any less barbaric? The basis is still an “eye for an eye” & revenge. We’re not as barbaric as the killers who perpetrate such heinous acts.

        In terms of my reference to the Conservatives, I’m alluding to the hypocrisy of preaching that “government shouldn’t be in people’s lives” – while shoving their ideological issues down our throats.

  12. Liz says:

    For many years I have maintained the exact same position that you have just articulated. I always believed in my heart that people much smarter than I felt the same way, and now I have proof. Frankly, I was surprised by today’s headlines that the majority of Canadians support the return of the death penalty. Perhaps I was more disappointed than surprised. Let’s start talking about how to fix the system before we even consider having the death penalty conversation.

  13. Dan says:

    Well articulated position. I’m in full agreement.
    And for those who argue it’s a waste of tax payer money, with the appeal process, it actually costs more to kill a murderer then to keep them in prison for life.

  14. james curran says:

    Well some of us have not avoided the topic over the last 5 years. Why? Because we always knew this day would come. The Cons have spent millions and millions of dollars trying to get the right answer to their question. Sounds like they finally got one. i would suggest it’s a very large outlier compared to the polls over the last 6 years that the Cons have conducted.

    here’s where the flags started appearing.
    http://whatdoiknowgrit.blogspot.com/2007/11/base-jumpingfrom-my-blog-to-winnipeg.html

  15. matt says:

    I had a similar, if less explicit, change in thought after going through law school. But then I became a father. I can’t say I support the death penalty as a regular part of the justice system. A lot of the comments above reasonably point to problems in implementing it or how it isn’t a useful deterrent. But there is something so heinous about killing children (or raping them, for that matter) that makes me think that killing in response is morally justified. It’s a shift in my gut. I understand the idea of aspiring to a society that relies on reason over passion. I understand the principle that killing is never morally justified under any circumstances – I was raised with it and it surrounded me in Catholic schools. But when confronted with certain crimes, that just seems to be words to me.

    It’s worth bearing in mind that prison sentences and penal consequences exist for more than utilitarian purposes. It’s more than protecting the public from dangerous people, more than letting “Corrections Canada” rehabilitate them so that they’re less dangerous, more than deterring others from committing similar acts, and more than helping victims heal. The state is not wholly committed to the notion “vengeance is mine” (i.e., God’s alone – in other words, the state *does* claim the right of vengeance). Part, not all, but part of the purpose of a sentence is to denounce and punish (see the principles of sentencing embedded in the Criminal Code if you don’t believe me). Some crimes deserve a massive amount of punishment – those of Pickton and Bernardo, for example.

    There are mechanical problems with implementing capital punishment. The method (needle, bullet, rope) might be inhumane, putting it on display might be distasteful or hypocritical or counterproductive, and most importantly guilt might not be certain. For those reasons it seems to me that institutionalizing capital punishment is not a good idea. But, without diminishing the importantance of those concerns, they are different than the issue of whether or not the state acts immorally by killing someone as a punishment.

  16. smelter rat says:

    I’m a long time supporter of Amnesty International and their work to eliminate the dealth penalty wordwide. I’m firmly against capital punishment under any circumstances. There is absolutely NO evidence it deters crime. it is a barbaric practise, even in prisons where lethal injections are used to make it seem less so.

  17. billg says:

    I would guess there are many core conservative supporters who support the death penalty, but, I would also guess that Mr Harper knows his swing Conservative voters like myself dont support it and, will punish his ass into oblivion if he try’s…same goes with SSM’s. I know its hard for many Left partisans to accept but, there is a Conservative base out there that wiped out Mr Mulroneys PC party and helped Mr Chretien to 3 majoritys.

  18. Derek Pearce says:

    I agree WK, particularly for the reasons stated in the last two paragraphs of HonestB’s post above. I’m astounded that anyone could think the state should reserve the right to execute it’s own citizens, whatever the reason. Unacceptable.

  19. Pat says:

    I think that throwing someone in jail for the rest of their lives is a much harsher punishment. With death it is over, with imprisonment, you are forced to come to terms with what you have done (either that, or you are certifiably insane). Have you ever been caught in a lie that went on too long, or have you ever done something you’ve regretted? Imagine the feelings you had, that immense regret and depression. To force someone to think about the fact that they killed a person for the rest of their life – that is the punishment equivalent to the crime. Death is just the end – that person doesn’t have to suffer here at all (and I’ll leave it up to each individual as to whether you believe they will suffer after they are dead).

    The death penalty is also impossible to reverse, and it doesn’t do anyone any good. There is also a solid argument that it is too expensive – prohibitively expensive.

  20. Vishal Malik says:

    I don’t support the death penalty because an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. The purpose of a justice system should be the elimination of crime, not the elimination of criminal. And fire is not fought with fire; fire is fought with water.

  21. Mulletaur says:

    Agreed.

    http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/2009-2010/the_wrong_man/james_lockyer.html

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guildford_Four_and_Maguire_Seven

    I could go on, but I would either be preaching to the converted or engaging in a dialogue with the deaf.

  22. The Other Jim says:

    A very thoughtful position, WK. One element that hasn’t been discussed in this thread is the racial aspect. There have been countless studies in the United States revealing biases not just in terms of the race of the defendant but also the race of the victim(s). To put it crudely, killing white-folk will get you the chair, but murdering someone with darker skin? Well, not so much…

    It is pretty scary stuff and, while some might say “our system is more colour-blind than the American’s”, the experience of Aboriginals within the Canadian justice system would certainly suggest otherwise.

    Reinstating the death penalty is a terrible idea for this and so, so many other reasons.

    • dave says:

      Some decades ago I listened to an American talking about capital punishment in his homeland. He said the evidence seems strong about race differences, but not always in all states. He said, though, that his research showed that waht people on death row had in common was that they were poor.

  23. The Zaphos Institute says:

    Those who favour the death penalty should first ask Donald Marshall, Steven Truscott, Robert Baltovich, David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin, James Driskell, Bill Mullins-Johnson, and Thomas Sophonow for their opinions about it.

  24. John Mraz says:

    I’m all for it, albeit we should incept some sort of game show akin to “Running Man” so as to satisfy the salivating vultures that hide their self-hatred behind cries for “justice”.

    Really? No. I barely trust the government to clean our streets. Let alone the management of life.

    jm

  25. Here Comes the Sun says:

    Politically, I’m profoundly against vesting the state with the power of life and death over any of it’s citizens, no matter how deserving. Re: our current government, a quote from Nietzsche come to mind:

    “Beware of those in whom the will to punish is strong.”

    • smelter rat says:

      I wasn’t aware that a nationally funded public health care system was punishing to anyone. Care to elaborate?

      • Ted B says:

        As flawed and harmful as much of our healthcare system is or may be, Gord, you so very clearly do not understand the very basics of our healthcare system.

      • Philippe says:

        Health care is meant to keep people alive, while the death penalty is meant to kill. Get the difference? What an idiotic comparison.

      • Ted B says:

        Again, Gordie, the government doesn’t provide healthcare. They pay for it. In fact, there are far fewer deaths as a result of them paying for it. Our mortality rates and our infant mortality rates are much better than the US.

        Comparing a justice system with consciously and deliberately and legally killing someone with a dysfunctional healthcare system that is better than not having one at all or having the US system is just plain old fashioned dumb.

    • Ted B says:

      The government doesn’t provide healthcare, Gord. Doctors do.

      • Ted B says:

        No, by my logic, the government kills people because the executioner is the government – he is hired and trained and told what to do and when by the government – and the government doesn’t provide healthcare because doctors and other healthcare practitioners do – the government sets certain rules around how they are trained and how they can practice and even some few things they must and cannot do, but doesn’t do much and they don’t deliver the service.

        On the other hand, by your logic… oops. What am I talking about?

      • smelter rat says:

        That’s complete bullshit Gord, and you should know better than to spread it.

    • Here Comes the Sun says:

      Wow. Leave one comment and come back to this.

      Before I answer, allow me to say that I commend your willingness to step into this den of progressives to put forth your views. And now, on to your question:

      “Then why do you favour govt run/rationed healthcare?”

      Answer: Because I can clearly tell the difference between a program that seeks the efficient and targeted use of communal resources to help our fellow beings in a cooperative and mutually beneficial way, versus the vesting of personal vengeance disguised as justice in an arm of the state apparatus.

      While I can see the equivocation you’re trying to establish, there’s something very twisted about a thought process that seeks to equate state-run health care with capital punishment. With concern, are you sure you’re entirely well?

  26. fred says:

    If you take someone’s old age pension away from them and they have to eat dogfood and sleep in a cold room, how long will it be before
    they die? You can kill people by denying them the basics of life. You can rob people of the will to live, and you can make their lives a
    living hell. There’s lots of subtle killing going on.

  27. billg says:

    Wow fred…that was really bizarre, but, right on time.

  28. kre8tv says:

    We have a justice system so that we don’t have people carrying out punishment on offenders any which way that they see best. That’s why I have no problem with the two-sided argument about what I would do if someone I loved were murdered. Of course I would want to go all Samuel Jackson on the bad guy. But society says I don’t have that right. And that is a very good thing.

    Next point: unless you accept the notion that the legal system has never put an innocent person to death, you have to see this as a profoundly flawed solution in an imperfect justice system. I know that I’d sure never want to be the one pulling the lever at the gallows.

  29. Jason Hickman says:

    I end up at the same place you do, for much the same reason: Morin, et al. I actually don’t think it’s an inappropriate punishment for the vilest crimes, but I am concerned with how it would be applied, even under the best system that we can reasonably expect to have.

    For the purpose of debate only, then, I’m interested in whether people who have said here that the death penalty is morally wrong in all cases really do think that way in all cases, bar none. Should the worst of the worst at Nuremberg been given life without parole instead of going to the gallows, for example?

  30. Ted H says:

    “Government sanctioned torture via the use of a torture warrant”, “Don’t execute murderers because they may go to a happier place” I am not angered by your barbarism, I feel sorry for you, you are one severely bent individual.

    • smelter rat says:

      You really are a sick twisted individual, Gord.

    • Pat says:

      I like how he said “physical scars”, as though that is the only thing that matters…

    • Ted H says:

      The Christian view is that a murderer could repent, make peace with the Lord and end up in heaven. However, that does not exempt him or her from the penalties imposed by the laws of man. So it seems to me that if an individual expressed true repentance, you would be opposed to the death penalty for that person, not because the death penalty itself is immoral, but because the state would be sending that person to heaven. Keeping them in a hell on earth is preferable so you are in fact agreeing that life in prison is a greater punishment than death. If they are truly repentant, then they will go to heaven anyway when they eventually die of sickness, old age or prison violence according to Christian believe. Your comments suggest to me that you have some sort of belief.

  31. Mike says:

    That is a wonderful articulation of why I too am against the death penalty. My one exception is in cases where there is no doubt what-so-ever – Bernardo for example.

    • smelter rat says:

      Bernardo is never going to harm anyone again. How would killing him improve the lives of Canadians?

      • Ted B says:

        By contrast, keeping him alive allows us to continually interrogate and study his sickness.

        As a result of not killing him and others like him before, we have a better sense of what the early signals are for sociopaths and can start treating them before they start their killing.

        • Mike says:

          No offense, I do not believe that every illness can be treated. I believe that is an utopian view of mental illness – that it can always be treated – some people just want to watch the world burn.

          • Ted B says:

            I didn’t say treated. I said we can act to stop the killing.

            A kid starts killing dogs for pleasure is now such a sign of a sociopath we see it in prime time drama shows all the time now.

            That can be traced back to studies of sociopaths who have been caught but not (or not yet) killed by the state.

            That can be traced forward to drug programs, institutionalization, even regular monitoring and counselling. Perhaps there is some treatment that will help that sociopath modify and control behaviour (not curing), or perhaps we at least have someone connected to this possible killer who can monitor his emotional cycles, or even come forward after he kills to warn of (and stop) future killings.

            It’s silly to live in a black and white world where there is only good and bad, fixable and not.

            I’m not living in utopia.

          • Pat says:

            I don’t believe that belief has anything to do with it. Are you a psychologist or a psychiatrist? No? Then your opinion on whether something is treatable is on shaky ground.

        • Mike says:

          You did say treat…then after you said you didn’t you said it a bunch more.
          My world is not black and white either. But in the shades of grey there are some that are pretty dark and some that are pretty light. I’m calling Bernardo pretty dark, Mother Teresa pretty light….
          If you live in Canada with our current Prime Minister I knew you weren’t living in a Utopia. I meant the notion that all mental illness can be managed or treated is utopian. Some of them end up as your MP – mine is larry miller….

      • Mike says:

        I made no claim that killing him would improve the lives of Canadians. Nor am I saying the purpose of the criminal system is to improve the lives of Canadians. People who violate the laws of the group owe the group recompense for their violation. Sometimes that is a fine, sometimes incarceration, or sometimes loss of a privilege.
        I am against capital punishment because of the chance that a person is innocent but convicted. My reason overcomes my passion for retribution. I am not against it because it is cruel and unusual. It is not unusual and it could be argued life imprisonment is crueler.
        As I said, my one exception to my opposition to capital punishment is when there is no doubt of the guilt of someone like Bernardo. Multiple killers like him have a sickness. I wouldn’t allow a sick dog who kills to spend it’s life in a cage in case it escaped, however unlikely that escape may be, because it will kill again….not to dehumanize Bernardo but how is he different from a sick dog? How can you claim to know he will never harm anyone again? What about his guards?

        • Tiger says:

          The trouble with that distinction is, well, ALL of our convicts are guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt”. Can’t really add a “we really mean it here” provision.

          Maybe if one is convicted of murder on multiple occasions in multiple trials?

          • Mike says:

            I get your point. No argument with it. In Bernardo’s case we have video evidence and corroborating testimony….
            I admit to the inherent contradiction in my beliefs…but it doesn’t change them

          • Tiger says:

            Mike — well, our system does allow for moral intuition/gut checks. That’s what the jury system is about. (Unsurprisingly, judges and academics HATE it.) (I’m, as I said below, part of the mushy middle that supports capital punishment on a yea/nay basis but would support just life in prison if it actually were that, but know that that’ll never ever actually happen.)

            Gord — but then you’d have to come up with what constitutes an “unreasonable doubt”. Lawyers and judges are a tricky lot, remember! [It’s like admin law pre-Dunsmuir (2008 SCC case), where there was “unreasonableness” and “patent unreasonableness”, and the whole thing blew up when the Supremes couldn’t think of something that was somewhat unreasonable but not patently unreasonable.]

  32. Brammer says:

    I am totally opposed, but don’t ask me, ask Morin, Marshall, Milgaard, or Sophonow.

    Odds are, they would have all been wrongfully killed if we had the death penalty, but I guess that is okay with certain types of people…

  33. CQ says:

    When a younger Kinsella was studying law, in the 80s, our world did not have its ubiquitious video/phone camaras, mobile geo-trackers, traffic cams., nor refined DNA identifications.
    I don’t support the death penalty for all cases of proven murder, but I do support it for many cases that involve multiple victims and/or exceeding brutality.
    It isn’t personal, it’s just the price to be paid.

  34. Ted B says:

    I think the argument that we are flawed and the system is flawed and therefore innocent people will, with absolute certainty, end up being killed by the state is such a powerful argument that it really should end the debate right there. It just churns my stomach even thinking that someone who is completely innocent of a crime could be killed, legally and full view of the public, under any system.

    But that argument actually misses the more important point.

    Killing murderers and rapists doesn’t accomplish what it is intended to, by any criteria of effective criminal justice or crime prevention. The facts are there for all to see: the death penalty is not a deterrence. The death penality is, as Warren notes, about an emotional response. And that emotional response is based on the worst of human impulses: vengeance.

    But that also missing the most important point.

    The most important point is that killing is wrong. Period. Even if we designed a system that was somehow perfect or had an example of irrefutable guilt (video witness, eye witness, written documentation, AND confession), it would still be wrong. Except in maybe only two extremely narrow and exceptional circumstances (self-defence, war), taking a living human being and killing him or her cannot be justified.

  35. Dave Wells says:

    You are a prolific commenter, Gord. Actually, you border on epic. Where do you find the time to write and respond and respond and respond and respond? I assume you’re retired because if you’re an employee, I’d fire you for spending too much time on the web. If you’re self-employed, well, I certainly would NOT avail myself of the services of such an easily distracted man.

    • KP says:

      Gord: nobody is saying you don’t work enough hours, though for an insurance salesman you certainly have a lot of time on your hands, despite the fact you sell the one thing nobody wants but everybody needs. Doesn’t someone in Drumheller need volcano coverage for their dirt farm?

      I wonder what your clients would think about renewing services with you if they saw how many brain cells you burn up cyberstalking Warren Kinsella rather than tending to their various needs.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a new Van Halen album to listen to. It’s something I like to do outside my working hours.

    • Dave Wells says:

      Can’t leave a longer response Gord. Sorry- I’m busy working.

    • Cam Prymak says:

      Please define ‘top five percentile’.

      In your office, town, province, country?

  36. Dan says:

    Interesting story. I’ll definitely be re-telling it.

    I do think there’s a moral case to kill someone if it saves a life. That’s easy when a murderer has a gun pointed at you. Harder to justify when there’s life imprisonment as an option, and you’re trying to measure the effect of deterrence.

    But I’m with you in the practical objections. First there’s the Innocence Project, which has overturned a lot of wrongfully convicted murderers. Statistically speaking, if you have two people convicted of murder, the poor guy will get a worse sentence than the rich guy, and the uneducated guy will get a worse sentence than the well educated guy. It’s troubling enough when you’re just talking about years in prison. If we’re gonna punish someone by death, you’d want the system to be far more accurate than it is now.

  37. Tiger says:

    I suppose I’m part of that 10% in the poll that flips back and forth, depending on how the question is posed.

    I’d support life in prison without parole instead of the death penalty but know it’ll never happen that way, so I revert back to support for capital punishment on the straight yea/nay question.

  38. Philip says:

    Some very good positions being put forward here. Having lived and worked in places where human life was worth nothing I find I put a very high premium on it. I find, like a number of others here, that our dangerous offender laws provide the protection Canadian society needs.

  39. MCBellecourt says:

    The death penalty has been found to be a far, far more expensive way to deal with hardcore crime. After all the appeals, delays, etc., etc., etc., the costs to the taxpayer add up. Besides, when you think about it, it’s too easy an out for the convict!

    Life inprisonment should mean life, that I will agree with. No parole for the type of criminals we want to kill. Life in prison until death is, in a way, killing the criminal–we just let ’em die slower, and to me, that is more suitable.

    The far greater punishment, albeit reversible if innocence is proven, is to be locked up for life with no social contact, no community, and allllll that time thinking about what you did. And, it costs less to lock the perp up for life than it is to find justification for killing that perp!

    That is the reasoned side of it. Morally speaking, I do NOT want the country committing murder on my behalf. We should always aspire to be above the criminal. The death penalty puts us down to the perp’s level–and for what?

    Not worth it.

    Not with my tax dollars. Not with my Canadian identity.

  40. Gwyneth Robb says:

    Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin, David Milgard, and how many others?

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