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Parliament Rejects Reinstatement of Capital Punishment

June 30, 1987

TORONTO (AP) _ Parliament today rejected by 21 votes a motion to restore capital punishment in Canada, pleasing Prime Minister Brian Mulroney who had told the Commons that execution is morally repugnant.

″I think it’s a very persuasive result,″ Mulroney said after the vote.

Opposition party leaders John Turner of the Liberals and Ed Broadbent of the New Democrats opposed the motion.

The vote, which came shortly after 1 a.m., was 148 against to 127 in favor of restoration. Mulroney’s Cabinet split 22-15 against the motion.

Justice Minister Ray Hnatyshyn, who voted against restoring the death penalty, said he was surprised by the vote margin. When debate began in April, he said, those favoring capital punishment seemed to have the upper hand.

Mulroney’s speech carried a lot of weight, he said.

″I suspect that there was a feeling the time was not appropriate to go back,″ Hnatyshyn said.

In an emotional speech to Parliament last week, Mulroney called capital punishment repugnant. ″It is wrong to take life, and I can think of no circumstances excepting self-defense to justify it,″ he said.

Proponents said capital punishment would deter violent crime and prevent convicted killers from getting out of jail and murdering again.

Public opinion polls indicated support for the death penalty declined during the debate, falling from about 70 percent to 61 percent, especially after opponents showed Canada’s murder rate has declined since capital punishment was abolished by Parliament in 1976.

The current homicide rate is 2.19 per 100,000 people, the lowest in 15 years. There were 561 homicides last year.

Among the most telling arguments in the parliamentary debate was mistaken convictions. Conservative legislator David Daubney noted 710 people have been executed in Canada since the country was founded in 1867, and based on the U.S. rate of wrongful convictions, more than 40 of them were innocent.

″On the day we restore the death penalty, we will inflict a dark scar on the soul of our nation,″ he argued.

The restoration motion called for the establishment of a parliamentary committee that would study the issue and conduct hearings for three months before a bill could be drafted, listing the offenses covered and form of execution.

Polls said many people favored execution of those convicted of murdering children, police officers or prison guards, but more lenient treatment for other killers.

In the latest Amnesty International count, 129 countries, including the United States, retain the death penalty.

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