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Prime Minister and Abolitionists Say Question Now Settled

June 30, 1987

TORONTO (AP) _ Parliament rejected restoration of the death penalty by a comfortable margin Tuesday in a vote some predictions said might be a tie.

Opponents of capital punishment attributed the 21-vote victory to about 20 members of the House of Commons who refused to tell pollsters their intentions.

″The question is settled,″ Prime Minister Brian Mulroney declared. He opposes the death penalty, but promised a new vote on it in his 1984 election campaign.

After 710 executions by hanging since Canada became a nation in 1867, Parliament voted in 1976 to abolish capital punishment. The last hangings took place in Toronto’s Don Jail in 1962.

Public concern over violent crime, especially by paroled convicts, brought the issue back to the fore and the vote came after two months of debate. Some expected the speaker would have to break a tie, but the result was 148 against restoring death penalty and 127 in favor.

Although most Commons members in Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party supported capital punishment, the vote in his Cabinet went against it 22-15.

Bill Domm, a Conservative member who led the fight for restoration, conceded that the issue was dead for the foreseeable future.

″I guess a lot of those undecided people we couldn’t get a count on finally went against the resolution,″ said opposition Liberal Party member Warren Allmand, a former solicitor general who sponsored the 1976 bill abolishing capital punishment.

New Democratic Party leader Ed Broadbent said the vote showed ″how wonderfully civilized Canada is right now.″

In the public gallery was Edward Greenspan, Canada’s best-known criminal lawyer, who virtually abandoned his Toronto practice for more than three months to campaign against the motion.

″To me, this was the most important social issue of the 1980s,″ he said. ″I’m relieved and hopeful that we can now direct our attention to the real problems of the criminal justice system.″

He and other opponents of capital punishment acknowledged that rules of sentencing and parole should be changed to tighten a system under which most people convicted of first-degree murders are released after 25 years.

Church and civil rights groups united in the Coalition Against the Return of the Death Penalty to oppose the motion. Polls indicated public support for the death penalty slipped from about 70 percent to 62 percent during the debate.

Inge Clausen of the 3,000-member Citizens United for Safety and Justice said a referendum would have been a better way to decide the issue. Her 15- year-old daughter was slain by a convicted sex killer out on parole.

″I really do not feel our streets should be the testing grounds for individuals coming out of prison, specifically murderers,″ she said.

Even passage of the motion might not have restored capital punishment. It called for a committee to draft a bill that would have had to survive scrutiny in the Commons and the Senate, an appointive body with the power to block legislation.