Conservatives show weakened resolve on death penalty

By 
  • December 4, 2009
{mosimage}TORONTO - Heavy condemnation of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative government for its pick-and-choose approach to protecting Canadians facing the death penalty abroad came up repeatedly during the third annual Cities for Life protest in Toronto.

“We now have, for the first time in more than 50 years, a Prime Minister and a government who support the death penalty, who believe in the death penalty,” said James Lockyer, director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted

“Our nation’s firm, unwavering leadership on the death penalty has been abandoned,” said Amnesty International Canada secretary general Alex Neve.

The international Cities for Life Day each Nov. 30 is promoted by the Community of Sant’Egidio, a Catholic lay movement particularly strong in Europe which dedicates itself to peace building and non-violence. More than 1,100 cities around the world participated this year in the call to abolish the death penalty worldwide. Toronto Mayor David Miller proclaimed Nov. 30 Cities for Life Day in Toronto.

There are 59 countries which retain the death penalty. However, 93 per cent of all executions take place in China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. Last year 25 countries executed at least 2,390 people, according to Amnesty International.

This year’s Cities for Life gathering in Toronto was all the more relevant because the Conservative government has weakened Canada’s resolve on the death penalty, keynote speaker Nazanin Afshin-Jam told The Catholic Register before the candlelit protest.

“It’s all of our responsibility, I believe, to show that it doesn’t make a right to commit another wrong,” said the former Miss World Canada and founder of Stop Child Executions . “I don’t see the logic of murdering somebody to show that murder is wrong.”

It’s not the first time the federal Conservatives have drawn criticism for their policy on the death penalty.

In August the Canadian Bar Association representing 37,000 lawyers passed a resolution saying the failure to seek clemency for all Canadians facing the death penalty brings Canada’s legal system into disrepute.

In July the government had published its policy, saying it would seek clemency for death row inmates based on criteria including whether or not the country carrying out the execution is democratic and respects the rule of law. Though the policy was officially published this year, it had been in effect since 2007 when the Harper government ceased long-standing efforts to bring Alberta-born convicted murderer Ronald Smith, on death row in Montana, back to a Canadian jail.

In 2007 the Catholic Organization for Life and Family wrote to Harper urging him to uphold Canadian opposition to the death penalty.

COLF reports that the Prime Minister’s Office never replied to its letter.

Canada’s homicide rate has plunged 27 per cent since the country abandoned the death penalty in 1976. In the United States the FBI Uniform Crime Reports Division reports that states without the death penalty have 4.9 murders per 100,000 people, and states with the death penalty have 9.2 murders per 100,000 people.

Harper has not proposed reinstatement of the death penalty in Canada while in government.

“I’ve made it very clear I won’t be proposing any kind of death penalty legislation or any referendum on that during this election,” Harper said in 2004.

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