January 31, 1917 (12th Parliament, 7th Session)


Robert Bickerdike


If my hon. friend had remained where he should be at the present time serving in the country's defence he might have got his soul there too.
Mr. Speaker, I condemn any law that proposes to thrust soulj into the fathomless abyss of the inscrutable beyond by the commission of a public crime. I have no doubt that the House will recall the fact that when this fight was started four years ago there were six of the states to the south of us which had abolished capital punishment; six more have now thrown off the yoke and to-day twelve states have abolished capital punishment. They are: Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Kansas, Minnesota, Maine, Michigan, Washington, Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, Tennessee, Arizona.
I was told that this was too big a fight for an old man like me to undertake. Well, it is true, it is a big fight, but it is a fight of democracy versus caste, humanity versus brutality, enlightenment versus superstition, construction versus destruction, Christianity versus heathenism, civilization versus blood, golden rule versus vengeance. Experience has shown that executions are followed by increased homicide. It is unwise economically. Lives are destroyed which would be economically valuable to the state. Capital punishment is unnecessary. It is not effective as a deterrent. Many murderers are not deterred by any punishment. Many criminals know that infliction of the death penalty is extremely unlikely.
The Minister of Justice, who, I am sorry, is not here at present, seems to be wedded to the scaffold. He claims that he has divine authority for hanging these poor men. I think the scaffold is a disgrace to any civilized country and in many respects, like

the tree of sorrows, it is watered only by the tears of the widows and orphans.
Allow me now to quote the words of one of the most eminent, most noble, and best statesmen that it was ever the good fortune of the great republic of France to produce. President Fallieres of the French Republic says:
Among the unpleasant duties of the President of France is that of signing all death warrants issued in the republic.
This is well. He sayts, however, that there (Should be a slight change in the arrangement, to wit:
The judge who sentences the man to die should also act as his executioner.
President Fallieres claims that if this [DOT]were the case, it would do away with all legalized homicide. He further says:
I will not ask any man to do that which ,1 myself am unwilling to do. I will do no murder, even for the State.
Therefore President Fallieres, during his time, commuted all death penalties to life imprisonment, and where there was a reasonable doubt about the man's guilt, he pardoned him. He says:
France must learn to take care of her criminals without killing them.
It is a poor use to make of >a man to take his life. It is an (acknowledgement of our inefficiency. Then, (a life sentence (should hold out to a man the promise that a number of years of good behaviour and useful work, will make him free. Penology must be made a science to the end that when we imprison a man we do it for his own good, with the intention of turning out a better man than we took in. Just as long as the state sets an example of killing its enemies, they must expect that individuals will occasionally kill theirs. Many years ago, when England had forty six offences punishable by death, there was very much more killing than now. Crime has decreased in England as well as elsewhere, as laws have become more humane. There is no such thing as a criminal class. When the state ceases to breed murder in the minds of her citizens, her citizens will then cease, not only the killing of each other, but also the dejire to kill. Judicial murders are worse than those done in passion. They are so atrociously premeditated, so deliberately planned, that no excuse can be made or found for them beyond that of precedent or cowardice. The sentiments of the people in Canada (are opposed to this (legal killing business, and this is why so many murder trials turn themselves into
a farce. When there is to be a hanging, every sheriff tries to get out of the job. In New York, when there is to be an electrocution, nobody wants to undertake it, and the deadly current is always turned on by a man at a distance from the scene, who salves his consience by pretending to think he is turning on the lights, (and in many of the cases, the executioner is a convict, working under orders. President Fallieres' refusal to either act as an executioner, onto order or engage others to take human life, is a manifestation of the better spirit of the age. Now let enlightened Canada, by her Governor in Council, take the same stand. Our Governor General land our Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet are a negative party to these judicial killings. They know what is being done, and by lifting a finger can stop it just as President Fallieres |did. Let them commute every death sentence to imprisonment for life, all without argument or question, and they will thereby express the spirit of the times, and show to the world that they believe in the future.
Man commits a murder and the state murders him. That is reciprocity with a vengeance. When I listen to a clergyman in the pulpit preaching Christianity on Sunday, and advocating the death penalty on Monday, I ask myself the old question: Was it he or hie parents who sinned, that he should be born blind? The state claims Divine authority for this leprous out-cropping of the dark ages, hut I claim that the state has no Divine authority ff>r the death penalty. Those who clamour most for capital punishment deduce their severity from the Bible, and yet it is the Bible which declares that no man should be put to death.
Dr. Josiah Oldfield, of London, says:
Can we ever forget that Cain was guilty of the worst of crimes, brutal, passionate, fratricide, and that by the laws of Canada, he would be hanged amid the execrations of our very righteous community, who would not raise a finger to get a reprieve in such a case, but would clamour for the hangman 'to do his duty' on the ground that 'such a monster ought not to live.'
Yet the infinite pity of God shielded Cain from the vengeance of pitiless men, and with a protective mark upon his forehead, he was eent out with an express command that no man should injure him; and no church dare to say that Cain, the first fratricide and the beginning of murderers, has not a (seat now in the Heaven of the Blessed, and yet, to-day, if Cain were to come to civilized Canada, he would be hounded to the gallows as a monster not worthy of having spent upon him the pittance which

the cost of one extra prisoner would entail. Yet the Bible declared that Cain [DOT] should not be hanged.

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