By Darick Charbonneau
Should Canada care about the moral high ground when it comes to dealing with dangerous criminals and reinstate the death penalty?
Fifty-two countries around the world, many of them democracies, still use the death penalty though that number is slowly declining.
The stated purpose of the death penalty is deterrence of heinous crimes. However, studies show that incarceration is much more effective at deterring a would-be criminal than the death penalty.
The death penalty is a contentious issue, with people from all walks of life espousing many different opinions on the subject.
Terri Lynne McClintic, convicted in the kidnapping, rape and murder of eight-year-old Tori Stafford, was moved to an Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan in December 2017, and when we recently found out about the transfer, conservative Facebook groups started sharing memes calling for the death penalty.
Simultaneously, supporters of the Canadian justice system attempted to explain the reasoning behind the decision, and tried to rebut the death penalty calls.
According to statcan.gc.ca, the highest costs associated with dealing with inmates is in the northern territories, where food and lodging costs soar in comparison to the lower 10 provinces. The Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut spend $366, $382, and $594 per day respectively. Provincially, Ontario and Quebec have the highest costs per day per inmate, at $235 and $220. In addition, these two provinces have the first and second highest populations of criminals, together having over one million inmates in the 2016/2017 reporting year, according to government stats. Together, these two provinces spend more than $230 million on inmate costs, yet that is just a small portion of the $4.6 billion allocated annually to the Correctional Service of Canada. By far the biggest cost to the correctional system is staffing the prisons with correctional officers, with salaries alone totaling over $1.1 billion.
Since a relatively small number of these cases would be of the severity that would warrant the death penalty, monetary savings would be limited.
Those who want the death penalty reinstated often cite the financial costs to house an inmate for life. They posit that it is irresponsible as a society to continue to waste money on the “dregs of society” instead of spending it where it is needed, such as helping the homeless or our veterans.
Despite these arguments, one only has to look to our southern neighbours to see that the detractors might be mislead.
Though many believe that the death penalty is cheaper than life in prison, this is not the case. It is the one truly irreversible punishment there is, and as such, requires extensive, complex and time-consuming judicial procedures. In addition, the appeals process alone can stretch decades. A classic example of this is the state of California, where a death row inmate costs 18 times more than an inmate who is in for life without parole. This is due to the many mandatory appeals and examinations of the case that often stretch decades after the death penalty verdict is reached.
Another argument people make is whether people are convicted of reprehensible crimes like pedophilia, rape and murder have a “right to life.” Some say these criminals have sacrificed their right, while others argue that the premise of the Canadian justice system is the reformation, if possible, of the prison population to reduce recidivism.
If we, as a country, are supposed to champion reformation as the goal of our legal system, how can we deny that chance to certain inmates, on the premise that their crimes are worse than others. In this day and age of treating people equally, should this not extend to the lowest of low in our society, or does Canada now decide who is deserving of being protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Another aspect of the death penalty that should prohibit its use is how permanent it is. The justice system is not perfect, however much we would like it to be so. David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of nursing assistant Gail Miller is an example of the fallibility of the system. He spent over 20 years in prison before he was exonerated and released. What if he had been sentenced to death?
You cannot exonerate someone back to life.