Hon. Irwin Cotler:
Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak in support of the motion that stands in my name. The motion states:
|| That, in the opinion of the House, the government should stand consistently against the death penalty as a matter of principle, both in Canada and around the world.
One would have hoped, and believed, that such a motion would not even have to be proposed, but it has been rendered necessary by the government's own action and inaction in these matters, in its refusal to seek clemency for Alberta born Ronald Allen Smith, the only Canadian on death row in the United States, and in particular, by the government's reversal of a long-standing law and policy, principle and precedent, on both the domestic and international levels.
What is more, not only have the government's actions and inaction reversed long-standing law and policy—with respect to principle and precedent, which is troubling—they also reflect a disturbing trend that puts the priority on ideology and politics at the expense of long-standing, respected principles and policies.
Indeed, an appreciation of the government's decision reveals a government acting in ignorance of, or indifference to, law and precedent, both domestic and international, and even unaware of what its own departments and diplomats are otherwise affirming.
For example, on October 27, 2007, just days before the government flip-flopped on this issue, the Minister of Foreign Affairs reaffirmed Canada's traditional policy, stating that “Canada's policy is to seek clemency, for humanitarian reasons, for Canadians sentenced to death in foreign countries” and that “there is no death penalty in Canada, and the government does not support the death penalty”.
As well, it would seem the government was not yet speaking with an informed and unified voice.
Canadian diplomat Kimberly Lewis of the Canadian Consulate in Denver visited Mr. Smith in prison on October 2007 on the occasion of the government in Ottawa saying it would not seek clemency for Mr. Smith, wherein she personally promised Mr. Smith, “the Canadian government was and would continue actively pursuing both his commutation and transfer to Canada”.
Accordingly, when the government's decision not to seek clemency then was announced, Mr. Smith called Kimberley Lewis, with whom he had just met. Ms. Lewis had to acknowledge that she was unaware of the policy reversal.
A Canadian diplomat entrusted with the carrying out of Canadian policy was not even aware of the abrupt change in that policy, thereby misinforming a person on death row that the government will seek clemency on his behalf when the government decided not to seek clemency on his behalf.
What kind of decision making is this, even leaving aside as a matter of principle the wrong-headed reversal of Canada's long-standing Canadian law and policy? Indeed, even the justice department's own website still reads, as I speak, that “the abolition of the death penalty is considered to be a principle of fundamental justice”. Surely something so fundamental should not be so abruptly, if not callously, changed without consent or consultation of the governed, in disregard of the Constitution, and in ignorance of the government's own diplomats entrusted with carrying out its policy.
This is a shocking display of ineptitude, ignorance and callous indifference to principle, policy and human life.
I would like now to outline eight major grounds of principle and precedent, law and policy, which the government has either been ignorant of or indifferent to and which has necessitated this motion. It is as much a matter of setting the record straight as reaffirming our long-standing law and policy on both the domestic and international levels.
First, the government's abrupt about-face contradicts Canadian law and policy respecting extradition. Canadian law prohibits the extradition of an individual to a jurisdiction which imposes the death penalty. Specifically, Canadian law would therefore prohibit the extradition of an American national to a state in the United States that practises the death penalty. Yet the Canadian government will not intervene in the case of a Canadian citizen sentenced to death in an American state.
So the question: Does the Canadian government plan to change our extradition law as well, and if it does not, as it recently suggested, will we then have double standards applied, for example, to Canadian and American citizens in the matter of the death penalty, with no protection for the Canadian citizen, or will the government continue to act as if there is no extradition law at all?
Second, the Supreme Court of Canada in the Burns and Rafay case held that capital punishment was a violation of the section 7 charter right to life, liberty and security of the person and a violation of the principles of fundamental justice thereby, as well as a violation of section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and its protection against cruel and unusual punishment.
Consequently, the court ruled that Canada could not remove Canadian citizens to the United States without receiving assurance from the state concerned that the death penalty would not be imposed.
In the words of the court, “an extradition that violates the principles of fundamental justice will always shock the conscious.... The death penalty has been rejected [in Canada] as an acceptable element of criminal justice. Capital punishment engages the underlying values of the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. It is final and irreversible”.
Is the government aware of this decision and opinion of the Supreme Court of Canada, or is it indifferent to decisions and opinions of the Supreme Court and prepared to proceed, notwithstanding the law of the land?
Third, Canada's abolitionist policy, and leadership, on the death penalty has extended beyond our borders, as evidenced by our international undertakings in this regard.
On November 25, 2005, Canada ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights wherein Canada expressed inter alia that as a state party to the protocol, it is “desirous to undertake hereby an international commitment to abolish the death penalty”.
As minister of justice at the time, I stated that, “becoming a party to the treaty is part of Canada's effort to send a clear message on this important human rights issue”. I added, “Canada opposes the death penalty and we support the international trend toward its abolition. We urge all states that retain the death penalty to abolish it or to impose a moratorium on its use, and to become parties to the Second Optional Protocol”.
Is the government aware that we ratified this protocol? In this case as well, is it prepared to act in disregard of, or indifference to, our international commitments let alone our international leadership on these matters?
Fourth, on November 1, Canada did not co-sponsor a resolution presented to the UN General Assembly calling for an international moratorium on the death penalty. This also contradicts Canada's traditional position. Our country co-sponsored similar resolutions before the UN Commission on Human Rights every year from 1988 to 2005. Are we to conclude that Canada is turning its back on its international partners?
Fifth, the United States Supreme Court suspended execution by lethal injection in the state of Mississippi until a study could determine whether the method constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, which is forbidden under the American bill of rights.
In the case of Canadian Ronald Allen Smith, now sentenced to death by lethal injection in the State of Montana, is the government aware of the judicial review of the constitutionality of this practice now before the American Supreme Court; or is it, yet again, indifferent to it and prepared to turn a blind eye to what is happening, in breach, once more, of Canadian and international law and practice?
Sixth, a comprehensive study of the effects of capital punishment just released by the American Bar Association demonstrates that homicide rates in non-death-penalty states are no higher than in states that impose the death penalty. More importantly, the study shows that in death-penalty states, there is a disproportionate and prejudicial impact on minorities, the indigent, and those unrepresented by counsel or represented by ineffective counsel. Is the government aware of this data, or is it also indifferent to it, as it does not comport with its own ideological and political bent?
Seventh, any decision not to seek clemency presupposes in every instance that both a person is guilty and that the death penalty is the appropriate penalty. What this fails to account for is the possibility of wrongful conviction or other miscarriage of justice, and that there is no appeal from a wrongful conviction.
It is pertinent and poignant to recall that in 1959 a young 14-year-old named Steven Truscott was charged and convicted of the rape and murder of a 12-year-old and sentenced to hang. Fortunately, the sentence was commuted and 48 years later it was determined that Mr. Truscott was the victim of a miscarriage of justice, and an acquittal was entered into his case.
It is as painful as it is shocking to appreciate today that had capital punishment then been imposed, Mr. Truscott would not even have lived, let alone to have lived to have his wrongful conviction overturned and his name cleared.
Moreover, since 1973, 124 death row prisoners in the United States have later been found innocent.
Eighth, is the government's inconsistent and rather unprincipled character reflected in its clemency policy.
I am pleased that the government announced that it will seek clemency for Canadian citizen, Mohamed Kohail, under threat of the death penalty by decapitation in Saudi Arabia. But it did so while it maintained its position of not seeking clemency for the only Canadian on death row in the United States.
This brings me to the second part of my remarks. The reasons offered by the government for its unreasonable and even callous reversal of decision, which are even less reassuring.
For example, the government's initial mantra was that it did not want Mr. Smith to be returned to Canada and that it wanted to protect the security of Canadians. However, this was a red-herring. No one was seeking his return to Canada. The opposition is to the imposition of the death penalty, not to his conviction or to him serving a life sentence in the United States. We understand the pain and suffering of the victims of Mr. Smith's criminal act.
Fortunately the government no longer repeats this untenable and discredited mantra. The government then stated that it will not interfere “in a jurisdiction that is both democratic and respects the rule of law”, however, no one is arguing that Mr. Smith did not get a fair trial, or that the United States is not a democracy.
Indeed, the government is conflating the issue of capital punishment policy in a state of the United States with that of U.S. policy as a whole, or more, with whether the U.S. is a democracy or not, a matter that is utterly irrelevant to the issue at hand.
The government then proceeded to ground its reversal on a “case by case basis” and thereby justified its decision to intervene in the case of Saudi Arabia and not in the case of Mr. Smith on the grounds that it will “consider to seek clemency on a case-by-case” basis.
However, this is a seemingly arbitrary determination without criteria or process, which inherently prefers some lives before others, a notion also at variance with principles of equality and due process.
Moreover, is the government thereby wishing to convey in the case of Mr. Kohail that Saudi Arabia is not a democracy or that it does not exercise the rule of law, or both? If so, will it so advise its diplomats, conveying that decision to Saudi Arabia, with the attending prejudicial fallout that this might have not only for our diplomacy but also for advancing the justifiable case and cause for seeking clemency for Mr. Kohail?
As well, this ambiguous policy has been further obfuscated with the more recent addition that such case-by-case determinations would also factor into what is “in the best interest of Canada”, a no less vague and arbitrary measure, the whole of which creates a decision-making process without criteria or oversight, and seemingly without basis in law, principle, or precedent.
I would hope as well that the government will not resurrect again its false and ugly canard that those who support the abolition of the death penalty do not care about victims of crime.
Indeed, our party and all parties that support the abolition of the death penalty are no less committed and care about victims of crime.
However, the issue of the death penalty, as the Supreme Court has put it, is not one about victims of crime whose suffering we appreciate, but about fundamental justice under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law. It is about respect and reverence for the sanctity of human life.
As the United Nations human rights committee stated, “The right to life...is the supreme right from which no derogation is permitted” even in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.
In a word, Parliament has abolished the death penalty. Canadian courts found it to be in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a matter that shocks the conscience.
The Government of Canada has exercised international leadership on the matter of the death penalty “à plusieurs reprises”. International tribunals have affirmed and reaffirmed the sanctity of the right to life and characterized the death penalty as an assault on that fundamental right. The government is either ignorant of all this or choosing to be indifferent with all the negative and prejudicial fallout that this accounts for.
Certainly, the government, given its rhetoric about democratic countries with the rule of law as the basis for its seeking clemency on a case by case basis, should take this into account: our Canadian democracy, through which Parliament said no to the death penalty; our courts, including the Supreme Court, which said no to the death penalty; and our charter, which says no to the death penalty. Ours is a democracy speaking on this matter.
It should be noted here that Parliament recently voiced its opinion on the Conservative government's abrupt reversal of Canada's longstanding practice and policy by voting to reaffirm the traditional policy of Canada. Regrettably, the Conservative government voted unanimously against.
The government has repeated it has no intention of reopening the death penalty debate. I would like to take it at its word. However, the Prime Minister did state in 2004 that both the death penalty and the issue of abortion are not issues “for the first Conservative government”.
I am sure all members of the House and all Canadians would appreciate clarification from the government, given that indeed the death penalty has been opened up as an issue by this first Conservative government.
In summary, the government's decision is not only a violation of longstanding law and policy, principle and precedent both domestic and international but the reasons articulated by the government for its decision reflect a disturbing mindset where ideology and politics trump principle and policy.
It is time for the Government of Canada, as per the motion, to stand, consistently as a matter of principle, against the death penalty, both in Canada and around the world. This would be in accord with our law and policy, our principles, and precedents both domestic and international.
Hon. Stockwell Day (Minister of Public Safety, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to advise you that I will be splitting my time with my colleague, the member for Calgary East.
The motion that is before us today, I say regrettably and unfortunately, is a waste of this House's time. I say that with respect to the member who has just spoken from across the way because he is usually not one who would be engaged in an activity which, in fact, is a waste of the House's time.
This is an attempt, and I will not say by the member but certainly by the Liberal opposition, to draw debate where there is no debate, which is why we are opposing the motion. There are too many important issues before Canadians right now for us to be spending hours on this particular motion when the government has been most clear on this particular topic.
Some have suggested that this motion is a distraction from other difficulties that the Liberals are having, most notably the increasing and continual litany of humiliating voting responses by the Liberals, where it has gone as far now, as we have seen, where the leader of the Liberal opposition proposes a motion of non-confidence in the government and then tells his own members that they cannot vote for it. It has gone as far as being asked to join in a vote to ask the Senate to expedite very important criminal justice bills through the Senate, a simple motion like that, and they all walk out. The public is noticing one after another of these humiliating situations in which the Liberals continue to put themselves. Maybe that is why they are using something like this to take up House time and distract from the grim realities in which they now engage.
The motion calls on the government to reaffirm that there is no death penalty in Canada. We have said before and we will say again that there is no death penalty in Canada. The Minister of Justice and other members of the government have clearly said that. The member for Mount Royal must know that. This position has been articulated a number of times in recent days and he still has some audacity to stand in the House and say that they want to hear this articulated when it has been articulated on a number of occasions.
The government is not changing the law in our country with respect to the death penalty. We do not know how much clearer we can make that.
Since December 10, 1962, no one has been executed in Canada. That is over 45 years.
On July 14, 1976, the death penalty was removed from the Criminal Code. The death penalty was then removed from the National Defence Act on December 10, 1998. Since that day, there has been no death penalty in Canada in law as well as in fact.
In 1987 there was a free vote right here in the House of Commons regarding reinstatement of the death penalty. The result of that vote by members of Parliament, who had polled their constituents before the vote, sent the very strong signal that Canadians were in favour of maintaining the abolition of the death penalty and, as the Prime Minister has confirmed, this government does not have the desire nor the intent to reopen the death penalty debate in Canada. We have said it before and we are saying it again. I do not know how much clearer we can make it.
The government continues to speak for Canada and make its voice heard at the international level on all matters of foreign policy, including international human rights.
In addition, Canada's voice is a principled one which supports international standards and the rule of law.
It should be recalled, somewhat parenthetically, that the death penalty is not in and of itself contrary to international law. International law clearly recognizes that different states may legitimately take different views on the issue of the death penalty itself.
One of the foremost human rights treaties, adhered to by over 130 states, is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada has been a party to that treaty since 1976. The covenant does not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty, but it sets out that states that retain the death penalty must abide by certain rules.
Canadian advocates have talked about, as we have talked about consistently, a strict adherence to and full respect for safeguards and the due process of law where the death penalty is still in use. We insist on that due process of law.
I want to conclude by reassuring the House. Despite suggestions from the opposition that we are wavering in our support for the abolition of the death penalty in Canada, nothing could be further from the truth. The House has spoken on this issue previously, we have spoken authoritatively, and we will not reopen this debate. I want to underline this. We said that clearly before this motion came into play, in the clearest of terms from the Minister of Justice and from other members of the government.
This is why we are saying that this particular motion is a distraction. It is taking important and necessary time away from debate, because it is not necessary since it is asking the government to do what the government has already done very clearly on a number of occasions.
Canada's record on justice issues speaks for itself. This is a government that stands for the rule of law, justice and the protection of human rights. Protection of society is a priority. It is not an afterthought. Our government remains unwaivering in its determination to keep Canadians safe. We will continue to deliver on what is important to Canadians: the safety and security of their communities.
Mr. Deepak Obhrai (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, this is the second time that I rise to speak on this issue.
I will not repeat exactly what the Minister of Public Safety has just said, but he made it extremely clear where this government stands. Yet here we have this motion, which keeps coming up. The Liberals keep thinking about this. I do not understand why they are trying to think about this, about our principles.
The fact of the matter, as the Minister of Public Safety has said very clearly, and as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions, is that this government has no intention of bringing in the death penalty in Canada. This position is very clear and we are going to say it again and again until the Liberals finally get it into their heads that this government is not going to bring in the death penalty.
They can change words. They have been doing so since this budget was presented. They have been wording it this way or the other way and trying to twist the facts. There was one case where, instead of putting a non-confidence vote to the government--of course, they did not vote--they put a non-confidence motion to the opposition party, which is something new.
Perhaps I will repeat again what the Minister of Public Safety has said, which is that this government's position is clear: there is going to be no death penalty in Canada under this government.
Since December 10, 1962, no one has been executed in Canada. For over 45 years there have been no executions in this country. On July 14, 1976, the death penalty was removed from the Criminal Code when Parliament decided, after years of debate, that capital punishment was not an appropriate penalty. The death penalty was then removed from the National Defence Act on December 10, 1998. Since that day, there has been no death penalty in Canada in law as well as in fact.
In 1987, a free vote regarding the reinstatement of the death penalty was held in the House of Commons. The result of the vote sent the very strong signal that Canadians were in favour of maintaining the abolition of the death penalty. As the Prime Minister has confirmed, and I will repeat it so my colleagues can understand this, this government has no desire to reopen the death penalty debate in Canada.
As we have said repeatedly, in cases where Canadians face the death penalty abroad, the Government of Canada, on a case by case basis, will continue to consider whether to seek clemency. According to today's headlines, a majority of Canadians support our case by case approach. As well, we found out last fall that the majority of Canadians supports our overall approach to justice, an approach that focuses on tackling violent crime and community crime.
In terms of playing a leadership role in promoting the abolition of the death penalty internationally, this government has been and will continue to be a leader in speaking up for a principled stand on human rights and the rule of law in all international fora. For those states that legally retain the death penalty, this government will continue to advocate for full respect for international law, including the international legal restrictions in its application.
It is worth recalling and reminding all Canadians that the death penalty is not in and of itself contrary to the international law. International law clearly recognizes that different states may legitimately take differing views on the issue of the death penalty.
One of the foremost human rights treaties adhered to by over 130 states is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada has been a party to this treaty since 1976. The covenant does not prohibit the imposition of the death penalty, but rather sets out that states that retain the death penalty must abide by certain rules.
Many states do retain the death penalty. International law imposes restrictions on the use of the death penalty and imposes strict safeguards on its imposition. Canada's interventions with other states, whether made at the bilateral level or in multilateral fora, are made in the context of supporting human rights within the framework of international law.
Canada advocates full respect for safeguards and due process of law where the death penalty is still in use. In the fall of 2007 Canada led 41 co-sponsors in securing the adoption of the United Nations General Assembly of a resolution on the human rights situation in Iran.
This resolution expressed our serious concern at Iran's practice of multiple public executions, executions carried out in the absence of respect for internationally recognized safeguards, the continued issuing of sentences of execution by stoning and the execution of persons who were below 18 years of age at the time the offence was committed, in clear violation of Iran's own constitution and its obligation under international law.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs issues an urgent appeals to other governments to overturn the death sentences for crimes committed as minors. For example, the Minister of Foreign Affairs issued an urgent appeal to the government of Iran on July 17 2007, concerning the death sentence of Sina Paymard in Iran for a crime committed as a minor. Only six days earlier, we also spoke out against the execution by stoning of Jafar Kiani in Iran.
Canada has also participated in joint demarches with other diplomatic missions in countries abroad to highlight concerns regarding the use of the death penalty.
Our position has been clear, very clear. There has been no death penalty in Canada for 45 years and this government has no intention to change that. We will not reopen this debate. We have also indicated that whether to seek clemency will be assessed on a case by case basis.
Lastly, the government continues to speak for Canada and make its voice heard at the international level on all matters of foreign policy, including international human rights. In addition, Canada's voice is a principled one which supports international standards and the rule of law.
The government has been and will continue to be a leader in speaking up for a principled stand on human rights and the rule of law in all international forums.
I thank the House for providing me with the opportunity to remind Canadians and the members of the House of our government's clear and principled position on the death penalty both in Canada and internationally.
Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga, BQ):
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate the hon. member for Mount Royal whose concern for human rights is well established. The member for Mount Royal was a professor emeritus at McGill University. He served as justice minister and his passion for human rights issues is well known both in Canada and around the world. I congratulate him for the timeliness of his motion.
It is at times like these that we realize just how strange our government is, a government that has no common sense, that does not deserve a majority mandate, and I hope this expression is not unparliamentary, that is dangerous. We are no longer talking about healthy differences in ideologies between left and right. We have before us a government that is extremely dangerous, in terms of ideology, that is taking us decades back in time.
We had a somewhat conservative streak in Quebec under Robert Bourassa, who was for privatization and deregulation, but one could not imagine that a government that claims to adhere to the rule of law could be so disconnected from Quebec values. I allowed myself the use of the anglicism in the other official language, and I apologize to any former French teachers among us. One cannot imagine that a government could be so out of touch with the people.
This is no small matter. In the past three decades at least, in international forums such the United Nations, of course, all the governments of Canada have talked about, supported and promoted the fact that the death penalty is not the way to administer justice anywhere on the planet. It is possible to sentence people to life in prison, refuse to release them or make them ineligible for parole. But could any government be so archaic, so prehistoric, so behind the times that it would want to challenge a principle that speaks to the very essence of humanity?
Any country that has signed major international treaties dealing with the human condition, human rights and economic, social and cultural rights has an obligation to report. Canada has ratified the two major international treaties and must report as well. We are not talking about how we fight poverty or whether we are more to the left than other countries. We are talking about a fundamental principle that Canadian diplomacy has defended for 30 years in the international arena: Canada does not want to be associated in any way with regimes that retain the death penalty.
Not only does Canada not want to be associated with regimes that still use the death penalty, but when a Canadian or a Quebecker abroad is threatened with the death penalty, we expect the government to use all the means at its disposal to make representations and plead to have the death penalty commuted to life imprisonment.
We need to be clear. If people abroad, like Mr. Smith, have committed heinous crimes that are against our laws as well, we are not saying that they should be absolved and not punished. That is not our position. But administering justice by taking a life is not human. No democracy worthy of the name will defend such a principle. Despite all that, we have a government that is not able to make representations when they are needed.
This is not the first time that we have been embarrassed by this government on the international scene. We can give a number of examples. My colleague from Abitibi explained, in caucus, that this government was spineless, had no backbone, when the time came to defend the aboriginal peoples and ratify an international declaration. This government does not care about human rights.
For example, here in Canada the federal government and every province but one have a human rights charter with a clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of social condition. It is not rocket science. In Quebec, this clause has made it possible for heads of single-parent families to sue and win against owners who refused to rent them accommodation because their income was too low.
On two occasions, I tabled a bill to add social condition as a prohibited ground of discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The member for Sherbrooke also introduced a motion to this effect. The Liberals and my NDP friends gave their support. Who was opposed? None other than the Conservatives.
It is as though human rights were not on their radar. It is incredible to hear that. Not only are the Conservatives willing to recognize governments, but they are unable to make representations, when needed, to defend Canadian nationals facing the death penalty.
I was listening to the parliamentary secretary and other departmental representatives speak about countries that recognize the rule of law. What does the rule of law matter if you are facing the gallows? Such logic. They recognize the rule of law but are prepared to allow individuals to die, victims of capital punishment.
What a disappointing government.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not the kind of person who gets upset about every little thing. But I was certainly upset about something that happened in my committee, the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. My colleague, the member for Beauséjour, introduced a motion to conduct an investigation into the Cadman affair. This affair has to do with ethics. There are allegations of corruption. And section 119 of the Criminal Code is very clear. We cannot have allegations of corruption; charges should be laid if necessary. The member for Beauséjour introduced a motion in committee, and we were not able to investigate anything because the Conservatives were against it.
This is not the first time that this government has committed worrisome human rights violations. The Bloc Québécois cannot accept that we are not advocating loud and clear, on the basis of human rights, the principle that the death penalty is not the way to administer justice.
In 1976, the Supreme Court ruled that it went against the great liberties, such as the right to security or the right to freedom, and that we have the right to sentence people, to discourage them from re-offending without using the death penalty.
It is truly unbelievable when we know that Canada has been a huge defender of the principle of the integrity of the individual. And not just Canada, but Quebec as well. We should acknowledge that Mr. Humphrey was one of the authors of the United Nations charter, which certainly defended these principles.
So it is rather disappointing to see that we are once again having this debate.
I know that the leader of the Bloc Québécois, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, made representations to the Governor of Montana about this individual, Mr. Smith, who was threatened, but nonetheless charged. We do not dispute the fact that he should be punished, but we did not think he should have been sentenced to death.
I would like to share with my colleagues the letter that was sent:
|| As members of Canada's House of Commons, we felt obliged to write to you regarding Ronald Allen Smith who is to be executed shortly in the State of Montana.
|| As you know, Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. This position has been reinforced by the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled that, under Canadian law, the death sentence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.
The principle of cruel and unusual punishment falls under the charters enshrining the great fundamental freedoms, such as the Canadian Charter and the Canadian Human Rights Act.
The letter continues:
|| This is in line with Canada's traditional policy to oppose the death sentence, especially when the death sentence is applied to one of its citizens. We feel it is our duty to intervene with you, sir, in order to reaffirm that position.
|| We are perfectly aware that it is not up to us to interfere in Montana's legal affairs. That is why we are not seeking clemency for the crime committed. Mr. Smith was convicted and we respect that ruling. We are simply urging you to commute the death sentence in his case and to hand down some other form of sentence that will respect the basic right to life.
The State of Montana uses capital punishment. All the members of the Bloc Québécois, if I am not mistaken, signed the letter. And when it says “some other form of sentence” that could be a life sentence without parole. Every jurisdiction has its own criminal law, and it was not the intention of the signatories to interfere in that sort of detail.
The letter goes on:
|| In no way do we wish to excuse or comment on Mr. Smith's actions. We feel the utmost sorrow for the victims' families.
Of course, out of respect for the families of the victims, we have no wish to excuse this kind of behaviour. We are also very concerned about the repercussions of such crimes on the victims' families.
The letter concludes:
|| We hope, sir, that you will look favourably upon this letter. We also believe that Montana will do the right thing in the eyes of the international community by reversing its decision to enforce the death penalty, while maintaining its firm stance on the crime committed, by commuting the penalty to a different sentence.
The Ronald Allen Smith case is very similar to that of Stan Faulder, a Canadian executed in the United States in 1999. At the time, Canada intervened and asked that the death sentence be commuted, but without success. However, while the Canadian authorities and a delegation of MPs were intervening, a member of the Canadian Alliance went to Texas to show his support for the death penalty.
That very member currently sits in the Conservative caucus and is chair of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, of which I am a member. The governor who rejected the application to commute Stan Faulder's sentence was none other than George W. Bush, current President of the Unites States, friend and mentor of our Prime Minister.
With their letter, the members of the Bloc Québécois wanted to challenge this traditional view held by people who lean ideologically to the right that the use of the death penalty is a means of administering justice. Fortunately, tremendous progress has been made over the past two decades and fewer and fewer countries use the death penalty.
We have international watchdogs, through organizations such as Amnesty International, that report on this, and often even go to the prisons and intervene.
The members of the Bloc Québécois have done their job. My colleagues will correct me if I am wrong, but I think the Liberals and the NDP have also intervened with the Governor of Montana.
Resorting to the death penalty is not a good way to administer justice or to deter people.
I will conclude by saying that many studies are available. Countries with the death penalty do not necessarily have lower crime rates. That is not the right way to analyze these phenomena. The two are not connected. Some countries have higher crime rates than others, and very often, rising crime rates have more to do with economic circumstances than with criminal justice policies.
Obviously, this does not mean that we should accept just anything or that some situations should not be condemned or discouraged. That is not what we are saying. We recognize that in some situations, it may be justified for a court of law to sentence a person to 20 or 25 years for a particularly sordid crime, as a real deterrent. The administration of justice would lose its credibility without that kind of penalty. However, there is no correlation between the death penalty and lower crime rates in communities. This has been documented for years, and now, more and more liberal democratic countries are getting rid of the death penalty.
Therefore, I think that the government should revisit its policy. Both the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Justice should make it clear that they will not make decisions on a case by case basis, and that there is a non-negotiable principle, which is that regardless of the crime committed, a Canadian in a foreign country must be able to count on his government's support to escape the gallows. Of course, we have to make sure that justice will be served in that country. That might mean very heavy sentences.
According to a principle of sovereignty, we must respect other countries' internal justice systems, but we must also defend certain principles. For example, we would never consider deporting a citizen to a country that practices torture. We would consider that kind of scenario or situation unacceptable.
It is very sad that the hon. member for Mount Royal has had to table a motion on this. In my opinion, there ought to be such unanimity on it that it need not be part of the business of the House. As the hon. member for Compton—Stanstead has rightly pointed out, I am convinced that, in a sovereign Quebec, there would be such total consensus on this issue, with our code of values and our collective identity, that there would be no one in the National Assembly interested in defending the death penalty as a solution in the administration of justice.
This is the position of the Bloc Québécois, and one we have had to remind people of on a number of occasions. We have asked questions. Our foreign policy critic, the hon. member for Papineau, and other members have raised this in the House. Every time we have been disappointed with the government's response. What we got was a lukewarm and wishy-washy response, even though we are entitled to expect the government to be intransigent, affirmative and vigilant on these principles. I am sure that the day the government achieves such vigilance, affirmation and determination, it will find that all opposition parties will rise above all partisan differences and give it their support.