By Jason Menard
As we enter the sentencing (and, likely, the appeals) phase of the Tori Stafford murder trial, the flames of passion sparked by our collective disgust at the crime have ignited the debate over capital punishment in this country.
There are Facebook pages gathering supporters for the now-convicted murderer to be given the death penalty. Others who have previously never entertained the concept now question whether some people are just beyond any sort of rehabilitation.
Tori’s murder has fallen into the realm of this planet’s worst criminals. People point to the Paul Bernardos of the world, stating how animals of this nature can’t be rehabilitated. And that may be true. The belief that everyone can be saved or fixed may be a Pollyanna one to hold. But what about the David Milgaards of the world?
What about Robert Baltovich? Guy Paul Morin? Steven Truscott? Or James Driskell? Anthony Hanemaayer? Réjean Hinse?
In most of these cases, the lynch mobs were out in full force. The torches were lit, the mobs were formed, and the march was on! These people were certain of the guilt of the accused, and had the death penalty been in place, innocent blood would be on the hands of each and every Canadian.
Personally, I do not believe in the death penalty. As a country, the death penalty was abolished in 1976, removed from the Criminal Code and replaced with mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole for 25 years for all first-degree murders. In 1987, the House of Commons debated a motion that would reintroduce capital punishment. It was defeated on a free vote. And, finally in 1998, the Canadian National Defense Act finally removed the death penalty, brining Canadian military law in line with Canadian civil law.
Canada’s opposition to capital punishment is so strong that we refuse to extradite prisoners to countries with the death penalty unless we have assurances that the death penalty will not be imposed, or – in the event it is imposed – it will not be carried out.
Some Canadians are understandably sickened that rapists and murderers get to live off the taxpayers’ time. Life in prison, but meals and education comped by the majority of us who do not commit crime. And there are others who claim that the death penalty is, in fact, a more expensive alternative.
So what’s our option? Choice. One final decision left in the hands of the convicted after all the trials are over.
I’m not advocating vigilante justice, either outside of the prison walls or within them, but I also don’t think that the more heinous the crime, the better the protection you have. So you give convicted murderers the choice: life in prison amongst general population or the needle.
If you want to call it a death penalty, fine. But it’s one that’s self-imposed. Those who are innocent will refuse and can continue to fight to prove it so; those who are guilty and want to take the easy way out, will. The cost of feeding, clothing, housing, and educating these murderers is no longer the Canadian taxpayer’s problem. Not all will take their own lives, even if guilty. Some may want to thumb their noses at the system; others may be morally or spiritually opposed to suicide. But the option is there.
And why should these monsters be allowed to choose when they did not give their victims a choice, some may ask. Exactly for that reason – they’re monsters. We, as a society, should not be.
In punishing these murderers, we should not lose our humanity. They’ve shown that they cannot play by the rules of society, but we should not devolve into a lynch mob to satisfy our desire for justice.
Cases like the Tori Stafford murder may spark our anger and, left to burn out of control, can cause us to raze to the ground our long-held ideals and beliefs. But cooler heads must prevail and we must not let these inhuman criminals dehumanize our society. They are the murders, not us.
Capital punishment is not the answer. Putting the decision in the convicted’s hands? That’s a capital idea.