moved that Bill C-212, an act to amend the Criminal Code and the Young Offenders Act (capital punishment), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, last week Gallup released the results of its most recent survey on Canadian support for the death penalty. According to that poll, if a national referendum were to be held today a full 63% of the Canadian public would vote in favour of reinstating capital punishment.
The Reform Party believes that on moral and contentious issues such as capital punishment Canadians should grapple with their own consciences and vote according to their personal convictions in a binding national referendum. We have called for a binding referendum on the death penalty but the government has said no. The government has told the people that it knows what is best for them and that they do not have the choice.
That is why I have introduced the bill. If the government will not hold a binding referendum at the time of the next federal election, I believe we should hold a true free vote in the House of Commons where all MPs can vote the views of their constituents rather than those of their political bosses or their own personal beliefs. That would be democracy.
The bill imposes a sentence of capital punishment on all adults found guilty of first degree murder. First degree murder occurs when a murder is planned and deliberate, when death occurs during a sexual assault or kidnapping, or when the victim is a police officer or a correctional officer. First degree murder is not an accident. It is cold, calculated and brutal.
To address the concerns people have about the finality of the death penalty important safeguards have been built into the legislation. There is an automatic right of appeal at the first level. Even if convicted people themselves do not appeal they are deemed to have appealed and the court will review the case on all questions of fact and law to determine if the conviction is valid.
All appeals are to be conducted in a timely fashion. If the jury and court are satisfied that overwhelming evidence shows someone is guilty beyond doubt there is no reason he or she should languish on death row for years. The sentence, if upheld, is to be carried out within a reasonable period of time. The death penalty is to be carried out by lethal injection. This is a more humane method of execution than hanging or electrocution. It ensures a quick and painless end and does not turn the culmination of a tragic chain of events begun by a brutal murder into a media and public circus.
People might ask why the bill is necessary. The death penalty should be reinstated for many reasons. First and foremost is that the state must protect society. In this debate we cannot forget the inevitable release of murderers. Between 1986 and 1995, 133 convicts released from prison for first and second degree murder returned to our communities and committed crimes again. These included 87 violent crimes and sex offences. They also included 10 murders. It is clear that our so-called rehabilitation programs are not working.
Two convicted murderers also escaped, only to murder again. How does one explain to the families of those victims that 12 murderers were given the opportunity to strike again? How could anyone possibly defend our justice system to the family of just one of these victims?
While there are 12 examples that I could use, I draw the attention of the House to one in particular. Four murders were committed in 1989 by Allan Legere who escaped from prison while serving a life sentence for the bloody beating death of an elderly shopkeeper in 1986. He escaped, only to murder four more law-abiding innocent Canadians.
I am certain that someone here today will raise the cases of Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin and David Milgaard. All three of these men spent years of their lives behind bars, convicted of crimes they did not commit. This is not something any Canadian is proud of. My hope is that their years of needless suffering and incarceration have taught us a grave lesson about how easily justice can be subverted. Their hard won battles have exposed problems in our system that we must be ever vigilant to avoid repeating.
When local police departments are under enormous public pressure to produce a guilty party, that is when we must scrutinize the evidence presented with an even more critical eye.
No one should be convicted of first degree murder and put to death based on circumstantial evidence. We now have much improved DNA technology. These high profile cases have alerted the public and the justice system to the possibility of overzealous police forces seeking speedy convictions.
David Milgaard was convicted of second degree murder so he never would have faced the death penalty in any case. Under the bill all evidence and facts would have been carefully re-examined in the convictions of Guy Paul Morin and Donald Marshall. They were recently exonerated on the basis of DNA evidence. If their trials had been held today they would have never been convicted. The DNA tests that proved them innocent could just as easily prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, someone else's guilt.
We are entering the 21st century and our justice system should use the latest technology to determine the guilt or innocence of those charged.
Many people like to quote statistics, telling us that the murder rate has gone down since 1975. That was the peak year, at three murders per 100,000 Canadians. Why do they not take it from 1966 when the rate was less than half that, at 1.25 per 100,000? In 1996 the homicide rate was 2.11 per 100,000. Whether we measure it from 1966 or 1975 it is still far too many.
Another statistic is much more relevant to the debate today. I quote from a recent Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics publication known as Juristat . With respect to homicide it states that first degree murder as a proportion of all homicides rose steadily from 36% in 1978 to 57% in 1996. That means that in 1978, 238 people were charged with first degree murder. However, in 1996, 361 people were charged with first degree murder even though there were 28 fewer murders committed in 1996 than in 1978. Obviously something has changed if the proportion of planned and deliberate murders has increased by over 50% since capital punishment was abolished in 1976.
We should not consider the use of the death penalty out of hunger for vengeance but out of desire for justice. No act of vengeance can undo the harm done. No punishment can erase a victim's scars or bring back those who were murdered. The death penalty is not about vengeance. It is not the business of the state to exact punishment motivated by vengeance. It is the role of the state to mete out justice.
Capital punishment is about public safety. The only certain way to keep extremely dangerous individuals from harming again and again is to take away their opportunity to do so. Why is it wrong for society to take the life of someone who has knowingly violated our most fundamental laws and brutally slain a fellow human being?
In 1982 one-third of the 300 convicted murderers in Canada said they would prefer the death penalty over life in prison. In fact, in 1983 a convicted murdered in Saskatchewan formally requested the death penalty by lethal injection on the basis that his life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. His request was denied by the court.
Some people believe we should just lock up murderers capable of the most heinous crimes for a few decades. Some of these people object to the death penalty strictly on moral grounds. That is their right and I believe they should be given the opportunity to voice that view in a referendum.
I take issue with those who object to the death penalty because they fear our justice system may have convicted an innocent person. What they are pointing out is not a problem with the death sentence, but a more fundamental problem with the ability of our justice system to determine the truth.
If you believe innocent people are being convicted, do not just object to the death penalty. It is equally wrong to keep an innocent person in jail for 10 or 20 years. Those who believe our justice system does not work have a moral obligation to reform it, to protect all innocent people, not just those facing a possible death penalty.
There is no question there are problems with our justice system. According to our laws, taking a human life is wrong. Somehow our system is seriously out of balance, and I refer specifically to the Latimer case.
Maybe people believe the second degree conviction of Tracy Latimer's father was warranted, but others believe it points to the need for different charges in the Criminal Code. I do not know whether the Minister of Justice is considering something like a mercy killing category, but if she is I strongly urge her to include a significant range of sentencing options to reflect all Canadians' moral convictions on this highly contentious issue.
Under the current system the sentencing judge has little latitude in sentencing Latimer. Some Canadians agree with this while others do not.
Let me bring another murder case to the attention of the House today. On Vancouver Island a man was murdered and his murderer walked. There was no public hue and cry to jail the perpetrator because the victim was apparently an undesirable person. Because people did not seem to generally like the victim, they demanded little or no punishment for the criminal. That is not right.
Somehow I believe our justice system forgot that its role is to protect all citizens, even those we do not like. As a society we cannot let individuals take the law into their own hands. We must prevent vigilantism and have room for compassion for those who act out of mercy, not malice. The state should have the option of imposing the severest of penalties for the most heinous of crimes to protect the citizens.
There is no way to bring the victim back. The death penalty would not do that. But it will prevent the murderer from murdering again.
Paul Bernardo may not be getting out for a long time, but his accomplice will be getting out very soon. Clifford Olson may have failed in his bid for parole this summer, but eventually he too may be released into our streets, into the neighbourhoods where our children are at play.
Do you want people capable of rape, torture and murder living next to you? Do you want to take the chance with your children and grandchildren? When they get out, not if, do not count on them moving to someone else's neighbourhood.
The death penalty may not act as a deterrent for sick individuals bent on the destruction of other human beings, but if the death penalty does not deter them, neither does the prospect of imprisonment for 15, 20 or 25 years. Deterrence is not the issue. Seventy percent of Canadians who supported the death penalty in 1996 said they would still support it even if it was proven not to be a deterrent. Instead, the majority of Canadians believe that capital punishment is for the protection of society.
In summary, I believe the death penalty should be reinstated for those guilty of heinous first degree murders. This bill provides ample opportunity for appeals on the basis of fact and law with the option of commuting the sentence to life imprisonment. Capital punishment should be available to society to protect the citizens from those who have shown no remorse, no guilt and no possibility of redemption. The appeals process and the sentence are to be carried out in a timely fashion. Administering a lethal injection is more humane than hanging or electrocution and does not reduce the death sentence to a media spectacle.
I and the Reform Party believe that Canadian people should decide on whether they want to reinstate capital punishment in a binding national referendum, as I said earlier. Because the government has said no, as I also said earlier, the next best thing is a free vote in the House of Commons.
Sixty-three per cent of Canadians want the death penalty reinstated. It is the duty of members of this House to carry out the will of their constituents. Therefore, I would seek unanimous consent of the members present to make Bill C-212 votable.