#52

CAPITAL PUNISHMENT - CANADIAN STYLE

The Supreme Court of Canada has drawn a flood of congratulations from various human rights and criminal lawyers groups, following its landmark 9-0 decision to have Canada in effect offer safe haven to Canadians convicted or suspected of murder in the United States and other countries where capital punishment is still in force. In its February 15, 2001, judgement, the Court - reasoning that Canadians should not be sent to face a penalty not endorsed by their own country - ruled that two Canadians accused of a gruesome triple murder in the United States can only be extradited with a guarantee they won't be put to death. The case now goes to Canada`s Justice Minister Anne McLellan, who must seek assurances of no death penalty from Washington State - where the crime was committed - before proceeding with the extradition of the two accused criminals.

This humanitarian decision is based on the high Court`s concern for miscarriages of justice, such as occurred in the famed Marshall and Millgard cases, which could lead to the taking of innocent human lives. As strong defender of human life, most pro-lifers also reject the concept of capital punishment and don`t quarrel with the idea of protecting it in all circumstances - even if it means the life of a ruthless criminal who helped bludgeon his parents and sister to death with a baseball bat.

But as laudable as we may find the Court`s genuine concern for the protection of convicted murderers, there is an element of incredible irony and, one might even suspect, hypocrisy in its strong denunciation of capital punishment. Even though Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, capital punishment remains a fact of life in Canada! It is presently being imposed each day on more than 300 innocent and helpless babies still nestled in their mothers` womb - each of these death sentences condoned by Parliament and the very court that purports to prohibit such action under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

We seem to have ended up in Canada with what is a perverted notion of the sanctity of life, one that now prevails in liberal legal and judicial circles, namely that the only truly sacred life is that of murderers. No effort will be spared to keep them alive. Others are fair game, but they must be protected at all costs. Pro-lifers who are constantly ridiculed for what abortion advocates describe as our "love affair with the fetus," may well respond that they, the Canadian Parliament, and courts need to get over their love affair with murder and murderers and concentrate instead on the current lethal injustice perpetrated daily on our unborn children.

For many of its loyal supporters, it was a real disappointment to find out that Amnesty International had intervened before the Supreme Court on behalf of the two suspected murderers. Discrimination appears to be a dirty word with the various human rights groups: It is applied to race, religion, sex, etc., (often, rightly so), but they choose to maintain a total and complicit silence when the victim is a pre-born baby. What really is the difference between a pre-born baby doomed to die in an abortion chamber and a prisoner doomed to die in a gas chamber? Unquestionably, abortion is the most unjust execution one can think of. Those opposed to the few executions in countries with capital punishment should protest just as vehemently against the more than 300 put to death each day in this country.

Canada has literally been at war against its pre-born children since 1969. This war has been approved by our Supreme Court which forcefully re-dedicated itself to this grisly struggle with its ringing endorsement of Canada`s foremost abortionist, Henry Morgentaler, in 1988 - in a decision that jettisoned any remnants of restriction on abortion. It should almost make one ashamed to be a Canadian. Can any country that stoops to the barbaric practice of sacrificing its children on an altar of choice and convenience consider itself civilized? Canada might be judged by certain world pundits to be the best country in the world to live in; however, the unborn child in its mother`s womb would most certainly view it as the most dangerous country to be conceived in, considering the meltdown of principle within the Canadian parliamentary and judicial establishments.

The Catholic Church condemns all forms of killing. Why then, some ask, is there so little emphasis in stopping capital punishment? It is because the Church has placed a higher and immediate priority on ending abortion, which always involves an innocent life and is the ultimate human rights issue. However, the Pope made his position on capital punishment quite plain in a 1999 message delivered to the United Nations by his representative, Archbishop Renato Martino: "Let me say clearly: anyone whose life is terminated in a gas chamber, by hanging, by lethal injection or by a firing squad is one of us - a human person, a brother or sister, however cruel and inhumane his or her actions may appear."

The position of the Holy See, therefore, is that authorities, even for the most serious crimes, should limit themselves to non-lethal means of punishment, as these means "are more in keeping with the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person." The Pope believes that nations have at their disposal today new possibilities for "effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself." (Cf. Evangelium Vitae, n. 56).

Abolition of the death penalty, commendable though it is, is only one step towards creating a deeper respect for human life. If millions of budding lives are eliminated at their very roots, and if the nations of the world can take for granted such crimes without a disturbed conscience, the argument for the abolition of capital punishment will become less credible. Will Amnesty International and the international community itself be prepared to condemn such a culture of death and advocate a culture of life? Human life demands protection and deserves unqualified respect. If so, that protection and respect should be upheld at all stages of human life and everywhere in the world.

The discussion on restricting and abolishing the death penalty demands of nations a new awareness of the sacredness of life. It demands courage to say "no" to killing of any kind, and it requires the generosity to provide perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes the chance to live a renewed life envisioned with healing and forgiveness. In doing so, John Paul II assures us there is sure to result a better humanity.

Thaddée Renault

Fredericton, New Brunswick


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