The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, is a form of punishment that has been abolished in most First World nations. While many citizens in these nations are in favour of its abolishment, a survey found that just over half of Canadians believe that Canada should reinstate the death penalty as a punishment for murder.

The History of Capital Punishment in Canada

Capital punishment in Canada was performed solely through hangings. Up until the death penalty’s abolishment, Canada sentenced 1,481 people to death and executed 710. The trend toward abolishment around the world began after World War II. 

Arthur Lucas, who was convicted of killing an undercover narcotics agent, and Ronald Turpin, who was convicted of killing an office, were the last people to be executed in Canada. The men were hanged at Toronto’s Don Jail in December 1962. Protesters vehemently fought for Lucas and Turpin, calling their fate “public murder.”The death penalty remains a source of heated debate among both policymakers and citizens alike. Canada abolished the death penalty from the Criminal Code in 1976 after the House of Commons passed Bill C-84. The House of Commons voted 148 to 127 in favour of not reinstating the penalty in 1987. 

Public Opinion On The Death Penalty

Currently, 48 countries retain the death penalty, while 108 countries have abolished it for all crimes. There are a variety of reasons why Canadians are against the death penalty including philosophical, moral, ethical, and religious beliefs. One of the main arguments against the death penalty is the possibility of a wrongful conviction. One notable case was the 1959 conviction of 14-year-old Steven Truscott. The Canadian Supreme Court sentenced Truscott to death in connection to the rape and murder of classmate Lynn Harper. He was scheduled to be hanged, but was released on parole in 1969 and his conviction was overturned in 2007. Even so, there are still some supporters of the death penalty in Canada for murderers.

Canadians In Favour of the Death Penalty

The Federal government’s motion for the reinstatement of the death penalty was defeated in 1987. However, that doesn’t mean that the public’s opinion was the same. Interestingly, a 2012 poll by the Toronto Sun found that 66 percent of Canadians were in favour of capital punishment. 

Further, a 2020 online survey by Research Co. found that over 51 percent of Canadians were in favour of reinstating capital punishment for murder. Canadians aged 55 and older supported reinstatement the most with 56 percent in favour, in comparison to 59 percent of Americans. The support was slightly higher among B.C. residents with 56% of respondents in favour. 

Although Canada abolished capital punishment 45 years ago, some Canadians’ survey responses reflect a different opinion on whether the punishment should be reinstated. Cases such as Truscott’s have forced citizens to rethink their position on capital punishment for murders. Although it is unlikely that Canada will reinstate the death penalty, it is interesting to hear Canadians views on the penalty and how the majority’s opinion changes with each generation.

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