Mr. Speaker, I was quite moved, as I imagine all hon. members in this House were, to hear our hon. colleague from the NDP share with us some very difficult moments of his life. I want to thank him very much for sharing his life experience with us.
Many people have spoken on the issue of the death penalty and whether the state itself should engage in the practice of killing people. I would like to use my time to put before the House and anyone listening the words of others who can speak much better than I can on the issue of the death penalty.
However, I would like to say that I am vehemently opposed to the death penalty. I believe that Canada and the Conservative government must reinstate the policy of seeking clemency on humanitarian grounds for Canadians who have been sentenced to execution, capital punishment, in jurisdictions outside of Canada. I also support the proposition that Canada should continue its leadership role in promoting the abolition of the death penalty internationally.
I would like to read some quotes for members. The first is as follows:
I want to say to the House, without reservation and without qualification that I do not support the motion to reinstate.
I will be voting against capital punishment on moral and logical grounds. I believe that it is wrong.
I am not persuaded the death penalty works as a deterrent. Nor am I persuaded it is appropriate as a punishment. On the contrary, I believe it is repugnant, and...I believe it is profoundly unacceptable. It is wrong to take life, and I can think of no circumstance excepting self-defence to justify it.
The effect of this resolution, if enacted...would be to confer upon the state the ultimate power, that of executioner. Moreover, if this motion were carried, the state, in the exercise of that responsibility, could indeed put to death an innocent man or an innocent woman.
...before all else, we uphold one simple principle: the inherent dignity of a human being, the inherent worth of a human life. I will resist with all of my strength, all of my life, any action that would diminish that reality and would lessen that value.
Those words were spoken in the House on June 22, 1987, by the then prime minister of Canada, the Right Hon. Brian Mulroney.
That is not all. Martin Luther King stated, “The death sentence is a barbaric act”. Mahatma Gandhi said, “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind”.
Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King Jr., stated:
As one whose husband and mother-in-law have both died the victims of murder assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offences. An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by legalized murder.
John Diefenbaker, on April 4, 1966, stated:
From my experience at the bar I say that anyone who says an innocent man cannot go to the gallows is wrong, because I know differently. It is a frightful thing when a man you believe to be innocent and whose attitude is, Don't worry about me, God will not allow it, walks to the gallows and months later the truth comes out.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau stated:
I do not deny that society has the right to punish a criminal, and the right to make the punishment fit the crime, but to kill a man for punishment alone is an act of revenge--nothing else. Some would prefer to call it retribution because that word has a nicer sound. But the meaning is the same.
Are we, as a society, so lacking in respect for ourselves, so lacking in hope for human betterment, so socially bankrupt that we are ready to accept state vengeance as our penal philosophy?
...my primary concern here is not compassion for the murderer. My concern is for the society which adopts vengeance as an acceptable motive for its collective behaviour. If we make that choice, we will snuff out some of that boundless hope and confidence in ourselves and other people which has marked our maturing as a free people.
That is not all. The current leader of the official opposition said:
The Conservative government is not representing the views of the majority of Canadians nor is it respecting long-standing Canadian law and policy on the issue, and I believe it is my responsibility to make those views known and to uphold the law.
By refusing to seek the commutation of the death sentence of Canadian citizens on death row in other countries, and by reneging on Canada's decision to co-sponsor the UN resolution opposing the use of the death penalty, the Conservative government has changed Canada's policy by stealth.
I am opposed to the death penalty. I believe that the use of the death penalty undermines the human dignity of not only the individual who is killed, but of all involved in the process. I believe that the evidence supports the position that the death penalty has little to no value as a deterrent of crime. I can think of no acceptable justification for the taking of a life by the state. While there is obviously a strong argument for opposing the death penalty due to the risk of the state killing an innocent individual, I believe that it represents an injustice even when it falls on someone who is unquestionably guilty of crime.
The fact that this government doesn't even want to try [asking for clemency] shows me what this government would try doing to Canada if it had a majority. We could see the return of the capital punishment debate in Canada.
This government continues to show a complete lack of respect for Parliament. If they want to change the policy on the death penalty, they should debate the issue in the House, and let Canadians see the real face of this government once and for all.
There are sitting members in this House on the government side who have made statements in support of capital punishment, in support of reinstating the government, the state, executing Canadians. The Minister of Public Safety has made those statements. I have the quotes here.
The Minister of Justice has made those statements. Not only that, but when he was a member of Parliament in the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney and the vote took place in 1987 on a motion to reinstate capital punishment in Canada to have the Canadian state resume executing Canadians, that member, the Minister of Justice, voted in favour of the motion.
The Minister of Labour was a member of Parliament in 1987 with the Progressive Conservative government under the then prime minister, the right hon. Brian Mulroney. That member, who is now the Minister of Labour, voted in favour of the motion.
When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice rises here to speak to this motion and states that the government has absolutely no intention of reinstating the death penalty, he is giving bafflegab to this House and to Canadians. He knows full well that the Minister of Justice already voted in favour of the reinstatement of the death penalty. He already knows that his government has changed the policy and is now going to cherry-pick which Canadians for whom, as a government, they will seek clemency when a Canadian is under a death penalty in another country. They will cherry-pick and they will decide. If they do not like someone's face, they will not ask for clemency. If they like someone's face, they will ask for clemency. Who knows what criteria the government will use to determine. How easy will it be once Canadians get used to having Canadians executed in other countries to then bring the death penalty back into Canada?
I am opposed to the reinstatement of the death penalty. I want my government to be an active--