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- Between 1892 and 1961,
the penalty for all murders in Canada was
death by hanging. In 1961, an act of Parliament divided murder into
capital and non-capital categories.
- The first private
bill calling for abolition of the death penalty was
introduced in 1914. In 1954, rape was removed from capital
offenses. In 1956, a parliamentary committee recommended
exempting juvenile offenders from the death penalty, providing
expert counsel at all stages of the proceedings and the institution of
mandatory appeals in capital cases.
- Between 1954 and 1963,
a private member's bill was introduced in
each parliamentary session calling for abolition of the death penalty.
The first major debate on the issue took place in the House of
Commons in 1966. Following a lengthy and emotional debate, the
government introduced and passed Bill C-168, which limited
capital murder to the killing of on-duty police officers and prison
- On July 14, 1976 the
House of Commons passed Bill C-84 on a
free vote, abolishing capital punishment from the Canadian
Criminal Code and replacing it with a mandatory life sentence
without possibility of parole for 25 years for all first-degree
- Canada retained the
death penalty for a number of military
offenses, including treason and mutiny. No Canadian soldier has
been charged with or executed for a capital crime in over 50 years.
On 10 December, 1998, the last vestiges of the death penalty in
Canada were abolished with the passage of legislation removing all
references to capital punishment from the National Defence Act.
- There were 710 executions
in Canada between 1867 and 1962. The
last execution was carried out on December 11, 1962 when 2 men
were hanged in Toronto, Ontario. Between 1879 and 1960, there
were 438 commutations of death sentences.
- Contrary to predictions
by death penalty supporters, the homicide
rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the
Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year (from 2.8
per 100,000 to 2.7). Over the next 20 years the homicide rated
fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend
was clearly downwards. It reached a 30-year low in 1995 (1.98)
--the fourth consecutive year-to-year decrease and a full one-third
lower than in the year before abolition. In 1998, the homicide rate
dipped below 1.9 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the 1960s.
- The overall conviction
rate for first-degree murder doubled in the
decade following abolition (from under 10% to approximately
20%), suggesting that Canadian juries are more willing to convict
for murder now that they are not compelled to make life-and-death
- All of Canada's national
political parties formally oppose the
reintroduction of the death penalty, with the exception of the Reform
Party which supports a binding national referendum on the issue.
- A motion to reintroduce
capital punishment was debated in the
House of Commons in 1987. On June 30, the motion was soundly
defeated on a free vote (148-127), despite public opinion polls
indicating majority support for the death penalty.
- A national poll conducted
in June, 1995 found that 69% of
Canadians moderately or strongly favoured the return of the death
penalty, exactly the same level of support as 20 years ago. However,
other surveys suggest that this abstract support is 'a mile wide
and an inch deep'. In 1996, a cross-section of 1500 Canadians were
asked to name the major concerns and issues facing the country; not
one named reinstatement of the death penalty as a priority. (For
comparison, a similar sample in the USA would be 15,000
individuals; polls of this size are considered to be accurate within
2.5 percentage points 95% of the time).
- When the motion
to reintroduce capital punishment was
announced in February of 1987, popular support for reintroduction
stood at 73% . By June (when the parliamentary vote was taken),
popular support had slipped to an all-time low of 61%, following
widespread discussion of death penalty issues in the media.
- An opinion poll taken
in December of 1998 showed a dramatic and
unprecedented increase in the number of Canadians who oppose the
death penalty. The survey, conducted less than two weeks after
Canadian Stanley Faulder was granted a last-minute stay of
execution in Texas, found that 48 per cent of Canadians support the
death penalty, 47 per cent are opposed and 6 per cent are unsure.
Pollsters attributed the sudden swing against the death penalty to
the new wording of the question asked (which used the term "death
penalty" rather than "capital punishment") and to publicity
surrounding the controversial Faulder case.
- Among Canadian religious
organizations opposed to the death
penalty are: the Anglican Church of Canada, the United Church of
Canada, the Canadian Catholic Conference, the Presbyterian
Church in Canada, the Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec,
the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Canadian
Unitarian Council, the Lutheran Church, the Quaker Society of
Friends and the Mennonite Central Committee. Many
denominations and religious leaders were actively involved in
opposing the 1987 reinstatement attempt.
- Since abolition, at
least 6 Canadian prisoners convicted of
first-degree murder have been released on grounds of innocence.
Two were incarcerated for more than 10 years before their
innocence was established, after wrongful conviction for crimes that
would likely have resulted in their execution if Canada had retained
the death penalty.
- Canadian research
on the deterrent effect of punishment has
reached the same conclusion as the overwhelming majority of US
studies: the death penalty has no special value as a deterrent when
compared to other punishments. In fact, the Canadian Association
of Chiefs of Police has stated: "It is futile to base an argument
for reinstatement on grounds of deterrence".
- Under the terms of
the Canada/USA extradition treaty, Canada
may choose to refuse an extradition request without assurances that
US prosecutors will not seek or impose the death penalty. In a
number of recent cases, US prosecutors have voluntarily agreed not
to seek the death penalty in order to obtain the prompt return of
- There are no current
measures calling for death penalty
reinstatement. The present Canadian government is opposed to the
return of capital punishment and has rejected calls for a national
referendum on the issue.
Information provided by: Mark Warren-Amnesty International, Ottawa
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