Motion No. 411
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reaffirm that:
(a) there is no death penalty in Canada;
(b) it is the policy of the government to seek clemency, on humanitarian grounds, for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign countries; and
(c) Canada will continue its leadership role in promoting the abolition of the death penalty internationally.
Mr. Speaker, it is a honour to rise today to speak to an issue that is extremely important, I believe, to all Canadians and certainly one that is very important to all parliamentarians.
I want to repeat exactly what the motion says so we have it clear what we are talking about tonight. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House, the government should reaffirm that: (a) there is no death penalty in Canada; (b) it is the policy of the government to seek clemency, on humanitarian grounds, for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign countries; and (c) Canada will continue its leadership role in promoting the abolition of the death penalty internationally.
It has been doing this for many years in the past.
The fact that the motion is even necessary and being discussed is frankly quite disturbing to many of us and to most Canadians.
The Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau abolished the death penalty in 1976, with a free vote in Parliament. In 1987 the Mulroney Conservative government held a free vote on the reinstatement of the death penalty.
The current Minister of Justice voted in favour of reinstating the death penalty at that time. Thankfully, with a full fledged debate, the House at that time voted against the reinstatement, and with good reason.
Let us take a moment to think about the miscarriages of justice that have occurred in recent memory, mistakes that have been made that could have cost the lives of wrongly convicted Canadians if we had the death penalty in Canada, wrongly convicted Canadians such as Steven Truscott, David Milgaard, Guy Paul Morin and others about whom we all have heard. Using the new scientific evidence to clear people is a real move of process in the new scientific way to identify whether a person is guilty or not.
Consider the incredible suffering these families would have endured had these innocent men been executed.
Let us think of the work of disgraced pathologist Dr. Smith, who we are currently dealing with in Toronto and the amount of people who were sent to jail for many years with flawed pathologist reports. What if some of these people had been executed based on totally incompetent work?
We do not have the death penalty in Canada for these and for many other reasons. However, secretively last year, very quietly the minority Conservative government admitted that it would no longer seek clemency for Canadians sentenced to death by foreign countries.
The Conservatives claim that the death penalty in the United States is legitimate because that country is a democracy. However, even American jurists are rejecting that view. The American Bar Association has found so many inequities and shortfalls in the death penalty systems in several American states that it has now called for a nation-wide moratorium on executions.
Canada's new position also undermines the efforts of the international partners with whom we have joined at the United Nations in a call for an international moratorium on the death penalty. We refuse to call on Montana for clemency, yet we ask the rest of the world for a moratorium.
Not only is it very hypocritical, but it is also clearly not the Canadian way and very un-Canadian. This announcement and this change in policy direction has given many Canadians reason to be very wary of what a majority Conservative government might actually do.
Quite frankly, it is disturbing this direction that it appears to want to take. The minority Conservative government is sending a clear message that we cannot count on the government to help us if we are sentenced to death in another country. The Liberal Party does not believe in turning our backs on its Canadian citizens.
By not standing up for a Canadian citizen facing the death penalty in the U.S., the Conservatives are reversing a long-standing Canadian practice and are appealing to a base of support that does not represent the views of most Canadians.
Do not misunderstand me. I believe in tough punishments for serious crimes. I want offenders severely punished and I do not have a lot of sympathy, if any, for any of them. However, I also do not support the death penalty for Canadians.
If the minority Conservative government really wants to further its socially conservative agenda, it should debate this issue in Parliament and tell Canadians exactly where it stands.
Despite their claims that they have no intention of reintroducing the death penalty in Canada, many of the current cabinet ministers have spoken publicly about their support for the death penalty. While the Prime Minister has tried to claim there has been no shift in official policy, a number of his prominent cabinet ministers have publicly stated their support for the death penalty in the past, including the current Minister of Justice, the Minister of National Defence and the Minister of Public Safety.
In fact, the current Minister of Justice said in the House, “One argument that I think has been made effectively is that capital punishment is necessary to restore public respect for the criminal justice system”.
It is not only the justice minister who is a closet fan of the death penalty. The public safety minister said, “I believe that when somebody has cold-bloodedly and in a premeditated way removed someone's right to live by murdering them, then, subject to the recommendation of a jury, I would concur with saying they should also forfeit their life”.
Those are very strong statements. However. what if that person had been wrongfully convicted?
As good as our criminal justice system is, we know clearly that it is not perfect and I do not think the criminal justice system in any country is.
While we are talking about interesting quotations, the Prime Minister was quoted as saying in 2004, in one of his speeches, “We can create a country built on solid Conservative values, not on expensive Liberal promises, a country the Liberals wouldn't even recognize, the kind of country I want to lead”.
I have read that statement many times and wonder just exactly what that means. Does that apply to the death penalty and the changes that he would make had the Conservatives had a majority government? We should ask those questions.
The minority Conservative government is desperate to appear moderate, to trick Canadians into believing that a Conservative government would not move Canada closer to the radical agenda of President Bush and the Republicans. The truth is the government is eager to implement a socially conservative agenda and it will start by sneaking what it can through the backdoor, since it knows it cannot pass any of it in the current Parliament. Just imagine what the Conservatives might do if they had a majority.
Until last month, Canada has been the leader on the global stage in the fight against the death penalty. As a co-sponsor of numerous resolutions before the United Nations Human Rights Commission, Canada has worked alongside countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia to push for a worldwide moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
The government continues to show a complete lack of respect for Parliament. If it wants to change the policy on the death penalty, then let us debate it in the House and let Canadians see the real face of the government, once and for all.
The Liberal Party opposes the death penalty at home and abroad. We will not stand by quietly and watch the minority government reverse years of Canadian leadership on this issue.