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


Robert Bickerdike


My hon. friend will find that in Genesis. Being a good biblical scholar he will know where to put his hand on it. I would impress, too, the striking fact that. were Moses to land upon our shores he would land as a criminal who had comjnitted a murder which is punishable by hanging; and when I read the story of how Moses took the poor Egyptian and killed him, and surreptitiously buried his body, and covered the place over with sand so that his crime should be hidden, and then went home and went about his daily duties with serene face as if nothing had happened, I recall similar murders that have taken place in Canada, and I remember the popular outcry about the callous brutality of the crime, and the hard-hearted hypocrisy of the murderer, all quite true, and I can picture from the experience of similar cases that if Moses were to come to Canada to-day and were to repeat the crime which he perpetrated upon the Egyptian, the press and the public would combine to talk about " another brutal murder," and demand the expiation of the crime upon the scaffold. The Minister of Justice would never be satisfied until he had Moses hanged on the scaffold. I take these two striking cases because it is to the law of Moses that the modern pro-hanger appeals. To the Caesar of the Mosaic law does the pro-hanger appeal. By the Caesar of the Mosaic law shall the greatest of the world's prophetic law-givers be judged, and the majestic patriarch who had moulded for good the destinies of .millions of people and the, great races of men, would fall branded under the statute law of Canada as a common mu'dmer not worth keeping alive.
Capital punishment is unjust to- the criminal. He has no chance to reform. His soul is sent into eternity regardless of whether it is saved o,r not. It is unfair to his family; it disgraces them and robs them of any means of support. If you doubt it, ask any toon. member who has known of a family where the parent has been hanged, and knows how they have 'been hounded from one city to another. Capital punishment makes no allowances for varying degrees of guilt. It is irrevoc-

able. It is wrong in principle. The State has no right to take life. Killing by a .group of people is no more right than killing by one person. I claim that the law of Moses, " Thou -shalt pot kill," applies to the State as well as to the individual. The .same arguments for capital punishment were formerly advanced for torture. Statistics show that murders have decreased in countries and in states that have abolished capital punishment. Life imprisonment is better. It is more effective as a deterrent. Conviction is more certain, and it is the certainty rather than the nature of punishment which deters. Its duration-makes it a more severe punishment. It offers adequate protection to society. It prevents murderers- from committing new crimes. It reforms- the prisoners in order to determine the causes of crime. It makes the prisoner's life valuable to the state. He will support himself. He will provide for his family. His labour can be used -in carrying on important public works.
I venture therefore to appeal, by the sacred mercy which spared Cain, and the infinite power which transformed Moses, to every one whose heart beats for the suffering and whose soul yearns over the agonized, to look with the eye of a sorrowing father upon every prodigal in the land, and not to rest until they are won from the -misery of the brutal passions which .bind them as slaves, into the glorious freedom of the sons of God. There is greater joy in heaven over one murderer who is converted than over ninety and nine murderers who are justly (?) hanged in their sins.
I wish to quote the words of a friend of mine, and of some _other hon. gentlemen in this House. His Excellency, the Hon. Geo. W. P. Hunt, Governor of Arizona, *says:
The abolishment of capital punishment is an appeal to man's better nature, not his baser; to his reason, not his passion; to his thought, not his prejudice; to his hope for the future, and not his pitiful blindfold reverence for the customs of a dark and sanguinary past.
Wholly practical and essentially scientific, the protest against legalized killing must naturally look to education for its victory. Aeons struggled for expression. The subject is yet so new to the great majority who have viewed the corpse-strewn course of criminology until its gruesome way is become an accustomed sight, that the mind of the public must be aroused, its thoughts developed, study urged, investigations encouraged; and to this end, as an educational treatise for which there exists an ample and important field.
The blowing out of that God-lighted flame, the taking away coldly, deliberately, premeditatedly of a human life, either by an individual or by the chosen agents of a collection of individuals-the State-is an enormous respon-

sibility. Who views it lightly from the standpoint of the State is as great a menace to society as the criminal of disordered mind or distorted brain who employs it to achieve his evil ends.
I view it with the utmost solemnity, with a profound conviction of the terrible wrong it contemplates. Heroes are made of criminals. Respect for human life is lessened. The spirit of lawlessness is developed in the criminally inclined and in individuals of low mentality.
The evolutionary mutations of the centuries, from chaos almost to light, ever steadily advancing, educating, humanizing, building-up, reconstructing, will never halt, until at their feet shall stand the bright and shining goal whose motto gleams through the aurora of the Golden Rule. There will be no halt until the brutal and brutalizing process of expiation, which even now must hide in shame its visible symbols of ferocity, and in the deathly seclusion of high-walled keeps work its cruel way, shall be utterly destroyed, even as an awakening horror of this national crime has already forced its banishment from the public's hor-rored eyes.
I do not think that any man who has not witnessed an execution can vote intelligently on this question. In 1861, when I was a youth, I saw a young man hanged in Montreal, the executions in those days being public. I felt then that surely there was some better way for Canada to treat its criminals. When I saw that poor man strung up between heaven and earth and all his convulsions witnessed by some 20,000 people at the old Montreal jail, fighting and scrambling and some of them playing cards, T felt that as long as I lived I would do everything in my power to have capital punishment abolished in Canada. I know some hon. members think that I have a big task ahead of me; that I have so far not succeeded very well, and . that I probably never shall; but when I am gone, I feel certain that the Lord will raise up some young men whose eloquence in this House will bring about the abolishment of capital punishment.
Legalized killing must go. It is the only form of crime denied the individual, but preserved in the processes of the state. It fails in its aim to serve society, but holds humanity in check. It writes God's law in earthly statute books, and becomes the chief offender. It destroys, but it cannot renew. It punishes, yes, if we think of the broken hearts of wives and mothers and innocent babes, but it does not punish where it seeks. It works an example, true, but an example of blood and revenge and murder, and as it sows so it reaps. It protects, aye, it protects the world from one man's hand, a hand that may be easily held, but it gives no shield against the
malignity of a thousand passions by its crime unloosed. It deters, but it deters only love and good, and the growth of the brotherhood of man. Criminal tendencies are due largely to conditions for which the state, rather than the individual, is responsible?
The State would be justified in taking life in self-defence, but there is no other excuse for the State taking life and the State does not need to take life in self-defence. The death penalty is not in accord with the modern theory of penology. It does not reform the criminal. There is, regrettably, a disposition on the part of some of our most worthy citizens to bring passages of Scripture to the support of capital punishment. We have heard unto the point of weariness the quotation of the old Mosaic law of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth." We do not hear so frequently, however, of Christ's own allusion to the Mosaic law in the following words:
Ye have heard it said in olden times, "An eye for an eye arid a tooth for a tooth," but I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for them that despitefully use you.
If any one, however adept in placing construction on the English language, is able, in the light of these words, to attribute even tacit support of the death penalty to the Saviour of mankind, he will exceed all bounds of mental agility within my comprehension. Again, we hear from those who would quote the Bible in justification of legalized murder, the citing of that part of the sixth verse of the ninth chapter of Genesis which reads as follows:
Whosoever sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed.
This has been very effectually answered by a statement with whose greatness every school child in America is familiar. I refer to Benjamin Franklin, who, in commenting upon the relation of the Old Testament to the death penalty, uttered the following words, alluding to the Scriptural passage quoted: .
This has been supposed to imply that blood could only be expiated by blood. But I am disposed to believe with the best commentators on this text of Scripture, that it is rather a prediction than a law. The language of it is simply that such is the folly and depravity of man that in every age murder shall beget murder. Laws which inflict death for murder are, in my opinion, as un-Christian as those' who justify or tolerate revenge; for the obligation of Christianity upon individuals to promote repentance, to forgive injuries, and to discharge the duties of universal benevolence is equally binding upon the state.

To attempt to discover, on grounds of morality, any distinction between murder and legalized execution is the sheerest quibbling. The only instances recorded in law as murder extenuated and in a degree justifiable, are an officer's act in killing one who is resisting arrest, the course of action of any one who slays in attempting to prevent the committing of some forcible or atrocious crime, and the deed of homicide committed either in the heat of passion, by accident, or in self-defence. In none of these conditions can the State find a justification for capital punishment since a deliberate execution is not extenuated by any of these circumstances. Nothing tends to make the heart of an honest man or an honest woman bleed more than realizing that some innocent people are being hanged. Although I have here a dozen cases where innocent men have been hanged, and although I have no doubt there are hundreds of such cases, I will not detain the House by bringing them up this evening.
Capital punishment does not protect society; it is based on revenge, and is dangerous to society. It brutalizes human nature. Legal executions increase the number of murders. If I take a pistol and fire it at the hon. Minister of Marine and Fisheries, and the bullet strikes his watch and does not kill him, as far as I am concerned, my crime is just as bad as if the bullet did kill him. If I do not kill him, the chances are that I shall be imprisoned and not executed. If I do kill him, the chances are that I shall be executed. I claim that the crime is committed when the shot is fired. If I do not succeed in killing the Minister of Marine and Fisheries, that is not my fault; I am equally guilty as if I had killed him, but I shall not be hanged for it. Surely the hon. members of this House will see the distinction.
Judge Robert McMurdy of Chicago says that the death penalty is a cruel invention of caste. Ignorance lazily follows the beaten path; wisdom chooses the way. Readers of history cannot fail to perceive that the death penalty is disappearing step by step. We are told that deaths through religious persecution alone averaged thousands a year for a period of six hundred years. Hume quotes Harrison as authority for the statement that in the reign of Henry VIII seventy-two thousand persons were executed for theft and robbery; and in the "Golden age" of Elizabeth between three and four hundred a year. This reckless slaughter is no longer possible; and with less

sanguinary laws have come a number of other changes which indicate an advancing civilization. Trial by jury has been instituted; hanging in chains has been done away with; quartering and breaking on the wheel and burning at the stake have passed into tradition; the death penalty for political crimes has been abandoned generally; it has substantially disappeared for infanticide; the execution of a woman is rare; public hangings have been almost wholly abolished; two degrees of murder have been established by law, one of which in nearly all countries is not capital; in some forums the determination of the punishment to be inflicted is left to the jury. In these particulars we have gradually approached, and in others we are rapidly nearing, the abolition of the death penalty. This form of punishment is discriminatory. Because of the severity it is almost never inflicted upon a person of wealth or influence. In general we hang only such as belong to the abjectly miserable portion of humanity. The long and the short of the matter is that the death penalty is too severe to be inflicted upon the rich or the strong. It is one of the cruel inventions of caste,-it is a class penalty, just as some of the laws governing it have *been class laws. One of these men from the United States to whom I have referred said, " Why abolish capital punishment? Why not adopt our system of execution?" And he went on to explain 'how neatly it was done. I said (that I did not see there was much improvement. In the early days, in New York, they burned criminals at the stake until they were dead, now they bum them in the chair until they are dead. There is not much difference to the poor criminal. Is it cowardice? Most people justify the deliberate taking of a life by the state for the wilful taking of a life by a man on the ground that life is sacred and that he who takes it must expect the most severe of all punishments. But if life is sacred enough to be protected from destruction by personal violence, is it not so sacred that we should make it certain that it will not be taken through conspiracy, public prejudice or judicial mistake? Why not go a step further and say that life is so sacred that Canada should not take it at all? Among the Quakers, who live by this rule, there are no murders. The contemplation of an execution with the horrprs that accompany it degrades and brutalizes. The death penalty renders human life less sacred by inducing the desire for suicide on the part of the criminal, so that every prisoner under sentence of death is guard-

ed, lest he destroy himselt and thus set before the community another evidence of disregard for life. Cowardice has had much to do with retaining this form of punishment. In cases of murder we do mot inflict the extreme penalty for the crime itself, but for the result. If one discharges a load of buckshot into the breast of another with the distinct intention of murdering him, and it happens that the man survives, the punishment is limited to imprisonment. If the man dies, the penalty may be death. Morally, the crime is committed when the gun is discharged, and to be consistent the sacredness of human life and all the other arguments used to sustain and justify capital punishment demand that the offender be executed. Yet such is not the law. We refuse to abolish this penalty for crime which results in death because we fear that our lives may be less secure. In other countries this fear has come to the surface when it was proposed to abolish the punishment, although the abolition, in every instance, proved the fear to be unfounded.
A. penalty so severe as not to be enforceable has a basic objection; it produces unrest to have a constant miscarriage of justice. A wealthy malefactor, an influential murderer cannot go free in a community where paupers and friendless foreigners and prodigals are hanged, without the people acquiring a contempt for the laws, such as they felt in England during the period of fifteen years when 555 verdicts were rendered for stealing from dwellings thirty-nine shillings, at a time when it was a capital offence to steal forty shillings. When the amount was changed to five pounds the juries raised their verdicts to four pounds, nineteen shillings.
Capital punishment is generally defended upon religious grounds. The passage upon which those who favour the death penalty rely is that part of the sixth verse of the ninth chapter of Genesis, which reads: " Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed." These are the words of the Old Testament. If we are to derive our authority for capital punishment from that part of the Good Book, we may likewise there find our authority for slavery, since we are told that " of the heathen that are round about " us we shall make bondmen. And by these words slavery was defended not very long ago. We are told in Exodus that " He that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death," and that if an ox known by its owner to be vicious escapes from its stall
and kills a human being, the ox and " his owner also shall be put to death ". To be consistent, then, those who undertake to sustain capital punishment by the sentence from Genesis must uphold hanging for cursing a parent, or even for negligence in the care of a vicious ox; and for thirty-three transgressions, including witchcraft, all of which are designated as capital in the Mosaic law. The doctrine of " life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth," given us by the Old Testament, is expressly repudiated in the New. We are told that vengeance is the Lord's; we are commanded after the most solemn fashion not to kill and if we adhere to the original Hebrew, expressly enjoined not to kill man.
Aside from the fact that no sufficient warrant is to be found in the Scriptures for the infliction of death as a punishment, it would seem clear that the State has the right to deprive a man of his civil rights only. It may lawfully withdraw its protection and its. privileges from an offender, but the right of a human being to live is derived from the Creator, and the State cannot justly take it away. Constantine prohibited branding the faces of criminals because he believed it to be a violation of the law of nature to mar the majesty of the human face. And nature's first law is life. No one has the right to take his own life, and therefore no one has the right to consent that others shall take it. It follows that if others acquire such a right it must be wholly on the specious ground of selfdefence, or " expediency ", as it is generally called. A matter of logic. All logical minds agree on this fundamental proposition : If the death penalty does not
deter, or if communities are safe without it, we have no right to retain it; for, under either of these conditions, it cannot be justified on the ground of self-defence or expediency. Let us proceed to learn from the facts that both these conditions obtain.
So far as the penalty is aimed at criminals it would seem to be useless. Such deterrents do not Teach to the subnormal. In general this class of people do not prize life highly. Moreover, criminals who are homicides, as a class, are not to be frightened. They are the bravest of their kind. Many of them in committing murder have had the courage to risk their own lives. While the constant recollection that the state has fixed the extreme punishment for murder may induce a habit of mind averse to committing the crime, it is by no means certain

Even in those cases where the murder is proved to the satisfaction of the most exact mind, there is no way of determining whether the culprit was sane when he committed the act. If insanity is present, the very nature of the disease often leads the offender to conceal its symptoms. If a man of normal mind should commit murder and be convicted, it cannot be known absolutely whether at the time of his hanging he is mentally sound. Yet our nature revolts at the thought of hanging a man who is insane, and the law does not permit his execution. To the hanging of women there is a special objection. More than one instance is related of an unborn child being destroyed at the same time with the mother. Such a result may be avoided, but the objection illustrates what all these facts accentuate, the difficulties that surround the infliction of this penalty. Throughout history man has been endeavouring to devise some decent method of putting a brother to death in cold blood. Hanging has been preferred to other methods because it does not literally shed blood; but a bungling hangman or a faulty rope may make it most revolting. Electrocution is but the forerunner of abolition. What nature has rendered so difficult, man should accept as forbidden.
With regard to the deterrent effect, let any one cast his mind back to the days of the Declaration of Independence. One of the greatest chapters in history would never have been written if the men who signed the Declaration of Independence had been in fear of the rope; but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing that the rope was hanging over them. We hang men because they are rebels. We hanged Riel, a man whom I knew very well. He was no more guilty than George Washington was; they were both rebels- one succeeded and became the father of his country, the other failed and was hanged.
At six o'clock the House adjourned, without question put, pursuant to the rule.
Thursday, February 1, 1917.

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