Editorial: ‘Is MAiD made for prisoners?’

  • June 21, 2024

Next week will mark the 37th anniversary of Canada fending off a last stab at restoring capital punishment for civilian crimes.

No one had been executed here since Arthur Lucas and Ronald Turpin were put to death in a double-hanging at Toronto’s Don Jail in 1962. But on June 30, 1987 the federal Conservative government faced a free vote on a bill to bring back the death penalty.

Public outrage remained at a peak over convicted killer Clifford Robert Olson being paid $100,000 to lead police to the bodies of the 11 children he murdered. Polls put national support for capital punishment as high as 85 per cent. 

Abolitionists prevailed by a scant 21 votes – 148 to 127. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney voted “nay” to reinstituting State sanctioned homicide. His own deputy prime minister, Don Mazankowski, voted “yay” to bringing back the noose or introducing injection of lethal needles into convicts’ arms.

With the symbolic removal in 1999 of the death penalty from the National Defence Act  – it hadn’t been inflicted in the Canadian military since 1946 – Canada entered the new millennium politically and morally committed to leaving our hangman’s trap door history behind. We would go forward letting prisoners live out their life sentences. 

The wrongful conviction scandals of Guy Paul Morin, David Milgaard, and others reinforced the clear and present truth that life, lived to its natural end, is always an inviolable good regardless of the sins it has entailed. 

Alas, it seems that in our snow bound north, progress goes in blinded circles. As Register reporter Anna Farrow writes in this issue, the appalling contemporary throwback known by its cutesy euphemism “medical aid in dying” (MAiD) is now making its death fingered presence felt in the nation’s jail houses. Farrow quotes Deacon Mike Walsh’s question to fellow members of the Canadian Catholic Prison Ministry Network: “Is MAiD made for prisons?”

Others who work within the prison ministry milieu suggest the answer is a definite yes.

“The concern is that prisoners would look at MAiD as being a pretty viable alternative to dying alone in prison or on the streets,” Deacon Paul Bar told the Register.

Canada’s federal prison ombudsman is even more emphatic. In an annual report, Correctional Investigator Ivan Zinger points to the paradigmatic case of a “non-violent recidivist” who became the first person to receive MAiD in a Canadian jail. Denial of parole was “almost certainly” part of his reason for choosing MAiD, Zinger found.

Worse, despite the now ubiquitous MAiD “safeguards” that are touted at every phase of expanding State-sanctioned medical homicide, Zinger’s office has been ritually excluded from oversight of what goes on behind Big House doors when it comes to doctor-delivered convict death.

So, having narrowly escaped the noose in 1987, here we are 37 years later with imprisoned men and women receiving lethal injections under the pretext of “medically aiding” them to escape the hoosegow walls. True, they’ll be dead. Abolished, we might say. But if slavery was freedom in George Orwell’s dystopian 1984, death is liberty in 2024 Canada.

And if the old adage remains true that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of being  hanged in the morning, then it is equally true that the toxic seepage of MAiD into prisons should fix our minds on the malevolence it represents for all of our national life.

The Supreme Court of Canada prophesized that malevolence in the 1993 Rodriguez case. Only six years after the Mulroney government’s rejection of restoring capital punishment, our highest court upheld federal laws prohibiting euthanasia and assisted suicide. It did so in large measure on the grounds that Parliament had a prerogative, indeed a duty, to preserve the “sanctity of life” in Canada. 

By 2015, in its Carter ruling, the novelty-chasers on the Supreme Court overturned the Rodriguez judgement and eviscerated any thought of  a life being, by its nature and despite its faults, sacred. MAiD crept in on cold-blooded homicidal feet a year later.

During the 1987 debate, the phrase was tossed around that Canada’s unfettered approach to abortion and refusal to restore capital punishment would make it a country “where babies are killed and killers are babied.” As a forecast, the sentiment turns out to have been entirely erroneous. As MAiD progresses, we’re becoming a country that will kill anyone, just for the asking, even those we long ago went to the wall to protect.

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