In the shadow of depravity, Conservatives choose vengeance over justice -

In the shadow of depravity, Conservatives choose vengeance over justice

As courts in Cairo, Tripoli, and Freetown may well teach us, even the most righteous impulses to kill or repress deserve almost always to be subdued


Adam Goldenberg is a Kirby-Simon Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School. He was chief speechwriter to Michael Ignatieff.

Egyptians took to the streets and defeated a dictator. Earlier this month, they returned to Tahrir Square, this time after Hosni Mubarak escaped the gallows.

Libyans, too, tore down a tyrant, Muammar Gadhafi. But as they buried their Caesar, they made it a crime to praise him–a law that may soon be struck down by the infant democracy’s high court.

And on the other side of the Sahara, Charles Taylor of Liberia was sentenced not to hang, but to 50 years in prison. The fallen strongman will die in jail, watching the lone and level sands stretch far away.

To many of their former subjects, Mubarak, Gadhafi, and Taylor are avatars of evil, their names synonymous with autocracy and dictatorship. That they deserve to die–and that those who might yet venerate them ought to be silenced–is, to many, a foregone conclusion. But as courts in Cairo, Tripoli, and Freetown may well teach us, justice demands otherwise; even the most righteous impulses to kill or repress deserve almost always to be subdued.

In Canada, some conservative politicians should heed that lesson.

Yes, Luka Rocca Magnotta is alleged to have filmed himself murdering and dismembering his victim, before mailing pieces of him to schoolchildren. And yes, Christopher Husbands is accused of shooting a gang rival in cold blood, in a crowded downtown shopping mall in downtown Toronto.

But do they deserve to hang?

Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti seems to think so: “As a city, a province and nation, capital punishment should be something we are talking about,” he declared, after the Eaton’s Centre shooting.

“There are times where capital punishment is appropriate,” mused Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge last January. His government, meanwhile, continues to defy decades of precedent by sitting on its hands while a Canadian citizen, Ronald Smith, awaits execution in Montana.

Ask for justification, and the answer is gore. “Before I answer my honourable colleague’s question,” then-Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Peter Kent said, during Question Period, in March 2009, “I would like to remind him of the two young aboriginal men whose lives were brutally cut short by Ronald Allen Smith, who marched them into a Montana forest and shot them execution style.”

Conservatives depict depravity, cruelty, and criminality so starkly for good reason: it sells. By appealing to passion, rather than reason, in support of their crime-and-punishment agenda, they seek to cloak vengeance in the guise of justice. They play to the same primal impulses—the same base human instincts—that argue for the swift execution of a dictator, or the abrogation of a tyrant’s stubborn defenders’ freedom of speech.

Of course, to place Magnotta, Husbands, or Smith in the same category as Mubarak, Gadhafi, and Taylor is largely ludicrous. But brutality and barbarism are born of the same darkness, to whatever degree. They provoke the same righteous fury, and they demand the same countervailing virtue in response: forbearance.

There is, after all, no quantum of due process that can alter the equivalence of murderous instincts. To indulge our own in pursuit of vengeance is to indulge the whims of murderers themselves. Neither they nor we are the rightful agents of cosmic justice; there is no place for the state in the karma of the nation.

The phrase “law and order” appears nowhere in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Neither, for that matter, do the words “crime” or “punishment,” except to prohibit cruel and unusual forms of the latter. Our constitutional commitment is, instead, to “fundamental justice.” Such justice requires forbearance–mercy, even–unless we intend to accept the barbarity of madmen as our own.

Hence the raft of national and international legal instruments that outlaw the death penalty, including Pierre Trudeau’s Bill C-84 in 1976, and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Canada joined in 2005. And while capital punishment falls farthest from the pale, it is not alone; earlier this year, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court found the Conservative government’s throw-away-the-key mandatory minimum sentences to be unconstitutional.

That Mubarak and Taylor were both spared execution speaks to the resilience of what is slowly becoming a global consensus–with some obvious exceptions. Our neighbours to the south are one. Saudi Arabia is another. Yet, as Gadhafi’s fate illustrates, mob justice can prove impossible to subdue. And when we allow our leaders to use our bloodiest impulses against us, for political gain, we join the mob ourselves.

Death, wrote the English poet John Donne, is the slave of kings and desperate men. We can deter or quarantine the desperate—or destroy them, if exigency demands. But, in a democracy, the king answers to us, and so does his slave. In this country, we still choose to set him free.

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In the shadow of depravity, Conservatives choose vengeance over justice

  1. Why do the Liberals keep raising this boogie-man? Nobody has proposed any actual legislation to re-introduce capital punishment. The only reason I can think of is that they know if there were a public open debate on the topic, public opinion would be far more divided than they like to tell us.

    I think most Canadians would be open to the idea of capital punishment in the most egregious cases. Pickton mostly comes to mind, where the evidence was plain as day and the body count was high. Why should society suffer him further by paying for his incarceration, and having to live with the memory of their atrocities. Society as a whole can heal from the scars they cause just by having the offender in the ground.

    • The Conservative party proposed none of the legislation they are currently passing.

    • Second, as to capital punishment as a deterrent, well. it obviously fails. The continuance of murder as a premeditated act is proof enough.

      The continuance of the murderers suffering, alive, excluded from civil society, watching their own life passing, is far more miserable than ending their consciousness.

      Ending the murderers life does not erase the memories. The knowledge of the acts exists outside of the killer.

      Vengeance, eye for an eye, does not heal wounds.

      • I generally strongly agree with your comment (all of it); however, when the period of suffering for the murderer (referring to your 2nd paragraph) is only about 15 years (as was the case for Rodney Munro, for a double murder, I don’t think that short a period of suffering is sufficient punishment for murder.

        This might help explain support for capital punishment: 7.5 years of jail for murder is, IMO, not enough. (Not that I would EVER advocate capital punishment. I’m merely pointing out how some might think jail time is insufficient, largely because of parole, plea bargains, and other means that reduce the prisoner’s sentence.)

        • Some might think 5 years for selling seeds is excessive, with your own government complicit in your extradition for a crime not illegal in your own country. In any case a binary solution is no solution. Sentencing terms are a whole new can of worms. Killing solves nothing.

        • I have done volunteer work in the prison system and I can say with near certainty that somebody who thinks spending 15 years (more than 1700 days) in someplace like Millhaven is minimal has no idea what prisons are like. None.

          • I find 7 years a little light for murder. I imagine there are many others who would agree. “But prison is a tough place” doesn’t change that opinion.

          • This comment was deleted.

          • My “stupid opinion” might not matter to you, but reporting your comment certainly will matter to you.

    • It keeps on being raised because a majority of Canadians (62-65%, depending on the poll) support the death penalty in principle.

      Only 45% or so actively want to bring it back, but a clear majority, over 60%, think that it is sometimes fitting and proper.

      So Liberals act preemptively to prevent this majority from coalescing into a push for legislative action.

  2. “More than three million unborn babies have died from abortion in Canada since 1969, when abortion was first decriminalized. Statistics Canada tables show a recorded total of 2,822,293 abortions between 1969 and 2005.”

    PJ O’Rourke ~ The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors— psychology, sociology, women’s studies— to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault. No one is fond of taking responsibility for his actions, but consider how much you’d have to hate free will to come up with a political platform that advocates killing unborn babies but not convicted murderers.

    A callous pragmatist might favor abortion and capital punishment. A devout Christian would sanction neither. But it takes years of therapy to arrive at the liberal view

    • You forget that no one actually kills babies- that would be murder.
      Abortion isn’t murder. In 99% of cases, it’s terminating anywhere
      between 8 and 1000 CELLS that wouldn’t be capable of surviving, and
      which at that point often look like hamsters. Abortion is in the VAST
      majority of cases (exceptions are usually when having the child would
      kill the mother and the child) not equal to killing a human being, the
      same way that eating an egg is not equivalent to killing a chicken or
      crushing an acorn isn’t the same thing as cutting down a blooming oak
      tree. This article is about the death penalty- i.e. killing people who
      have willingly caused harm to others by committing a crime. These two
      concepts are not equivalent. Oddly enough, people who often oppose
      abortion support the death penalty (e.g. the current Conservative

      Also, liberals didn’t “invent” any of those degrees- in fact, most of them have existed in one form or another for thousands of years (the exception being women’s studies). You’re really bad at analysis. You should take any university degree, but one of psychology, sociology, or women’s studies would really serve you well to perhaps understand issues better and actually learn to actually critically think instead of spewing drivel. It took me all of a day of talking to someone who was actually compassionate and thoughtful to come up with what you call a “liberal view”. Before that I was sadly misinformed. Luckily I smartened up. No therapy required, but then this isn’t about therapy- it’s about education

      • That argument is among the most detestable to invoke. Black and white sophistry is the bane of good sense in moral judgement.

    • 65% of Canadians support the death penalty under some circumstances. 45% would support legislation bringing it back to Canada now. (This column is probably aimed at the 20% who support capital punishment in principle but don’t want to have that debate now.)

      75% of Canadians support the current state of federal law on abortions (i.e., no criminal sanctions).

      Whatever elite opinion happens to be, popular opinion is understandable and even makes sense.

  3. Death penalty hasn’t been outlawed in Canada, the State still murders people but for different reasons. Canada murders significantly more people now then it did when we had death penalty.

    Trudeau was quick to legalize the death penalty for babies and then a few years later his admin took away death penalty for murderers. Causation, correlation would be interesting with Trudeau – his keenness to murder babies and his belief that murderers are not responsible for their actions.

    • The death penalty is a completely different issue. Conflating the two is a very weak tactic. I hope you don’t need to have the reasons explained to you.

    • You forget that no one actually kills babies- that would be murder. Abortion isn’t murder. In 99% of cases, it’s terminating anywhere between 8 and 1000 CELLS that wouldn’t be capable of surviving, and which at that point often look like hamsters. Abortion is in the VAST majority of cases (exceptions are usually when having the child would kill the mother and the child) not equal to killing a human being, the same way that eating an egg is not equivalent to killing a chicken or crushing an acorn isn’t the same thing as cutting down a blooming oak tree. This article is about the death penalty- i.e. killing people who have willingly caused harm to others by committing a crime. These two concepts are not equivalent. Oddly enough, people who often oppose abortion support the death penalty (e.g. the current Conservative government). So really, the two go hand in hand if you’re so inclined to view them both as being the same. Which they’re not.

      • Your baby may look like a hamster, but not mine.

        • Good news, scf! Nobody will force you to have an abortion!

          • Good news for you as well… nobody will force you to kill someone on death row.

    • Good point. Killing babies on a mass scale has been going on for years, and the Goldenbergs of the world raise nary a peep about it.

      • People have been born and have died since the beginning of time. what are you gonna do about it?

    • And what exactly is the legislation that was introduced by Trudeau that “legalized the death penalty for babies”?

      • Steve Jalsevac – Real Pierre Trudeau:

        De Valk states, “As Minister of Justice In 1967, Trudeau personally and on his own initiative introduced the Liberal government’s proposal for legalizing abortion, ignoring even the hearings which were being conducted on the subject by a joint House-of-Commons/ Senate committee.

        As he explained to the Calgary Herald in December 1967, he deliberately placed the abortion item amid 108 other items in an Omnibus Bill in order to weaken resistance to it. As prime minister, and having won a second mandate in July 1968 with slogans such as ‘the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation’, Pierre Trudeau pushed ahead with his reforms”.

        “Trudeau saw to it that the legalization of abortion was enacted successfully in May 1969. Afterwards, no opposition to the new law was tolerated in his cabinet or even from the public: a demand for a review in the spring of 1975 which had over a million signatures was buried swiftly and efficiently. A climax of sorts was reached on 22 May, 1975 when, according to the Globe and Mail, Trudeau hailed Dr. Henry Morgentaler as a ‘good friend, a fine humanitarian and a true humanist’.

  4. Magnotta, harper and people who believe in the death penalty all share similar views on the value of life – they’re just arguing over the details. We can punish without taking life ourselves, and doing so reinforces what an unthinkable act it is.

  5. Why is Goldenberg bashing Conservatives over capital punishment?

    Obama (a so-called progressive) is executing people left and right without trial or due process with his drone attacks (along with innocent people as collateral damage) in multiple countries. He supposedly has kill lists.

    Goldenberg is rather selective in his outrage.

    • Perhaps because he is a Canadian writing for a Canadian magazine with a Canadian audience?

  6. Gadhafi’s ‘mob justice’ was the action of overthrow of governments via foreign mercenaries controlled by NATO. Libya – among other sins – challenged banking control of Africa. Mubarak’s security chief worked hand in glove with the CIA on illegal ‘rendition’ – and is to take his place in charge as a trusted servant. And today sedition is rife in Syria while al-CIA-da alleges atrocities and can’t be bothered with credible evidence….which shows ‘revolutionaries’ to be responsible.
    But is you want to talk responsible….Lieberals and Cons-ervatives both deserve credit for the development of a situation in Afghanistan where kettled citizens ended up being tortured in prison. Such dedication to justice.
    I’m sure G-20 protesters have a few words to add as well.
    Kids in Fort Chipewyan have a website where they protest Tar Sands. Their parents have died from cancer caused by groundwater pollution for years. Yet that isn’t murder….is it ?

  7. Hey. Didn’t the BC Supreme Court just say the other day that it is okay for doctors to kill people, and this was hailed by the so-called progressive media as a great decision?

    • People should be able to make decisions about their own lives.

    • Assisted suicide is not ‘doctors killing people’.

      • I’m in favor of assisted suicide, but it is, in its rawest form, doctors killing people.

        • This is about patients’ rights. Using inflammatory language doesn’t advance the discussion, IMO.

          • If it was a patient wanting to have sex with their doctor, the answer from progressives about whether it would be right for the doctor to participate would be the exact opposite.

            No valid contract can exist where a power imbalance exists between the parties.

            So a doctor can’t enter a contract to have sex with their patient (according to progressives) but they can enter a contract with their patient to kill them.

          • Given your logic how can a patient agree to any treatment?

          • Neither does guilding the lilly. If you want to have an ernest discussion, you have to be honest about what we are discussing. A doctor, at the behest of a terminal patient, will inject that patient with a cocktail of drugs that will result in thier death.

          • I saw the woman whose case was just ruled on, interviewed this morning. She objects to the term assisted suicide. She prefers assisted dying.
            We already do that with palliative patients with the the use of morphine and it is not referred to as killing.

          • The use of morphine falls into the assisted killing umbrella because it is used to ease pain or induce sleep while waiting for death to occur naturally. Paliative patients are not given terminal doses of morphine to end thier lives. Trust me on this fact. Or trust the Royal Society of Canada. I’ll provide a link below.
            That being said, my point was not about the semantics of it all. My point is that assisted suicide, or whatever you want to call it, is by definition, killing. If I use chemicals to get rid of the crab grass on my lawn, or I use chemicals to end the life of a terminal patient, in both cases I am killing something. I’m not trying to belittle the situation and as I said at the start if this whole thing, I actually support assisted suicide, provided doctors arent forced to provide them, but I do think you need to quit kidding yourself, and admit that we are asking one person to end the life of another.

          • they

            They talk about terminal sedation right in that report. I have personally seen that done. And I have never seen it suggested that doctors would be forced to provide assistance. I just don’t get why you’re hung about using the word killing.

          • And if you read the description, it states the treatment is possible life shortening. The Canadian guidelines define “Terminal Sedation” as “sedation with continuous IV narcotics and/or sedatives until the patient becomes unconscious and death ensues from the underlying illness is palliative care, not euthanasia.” My “hang up” is not with having it called killing, it is if you are going to have a frank discussion about the subject, you need to be honest from all sides. Call it what you will, the fact remains the same.

          • The definition in the report you posted defines it as combined with the cessation of nutrients and fluid, thus speeding up death.
            where’s the dishonesty – nobody’s pretending the patient doesn’t die. The question is does the patient have the right to a medically assisted death at the time of their choosing?. Why does a patient with a terminal disease like ALS have to suffer agony before we step in and help them? Personally, I think, as a society, we have a hangup about death and dying.

          • My apologies, I didn’t cite my quote. It comes from the Supreme Courts ruling on the legality of Terminal Sedation. That being said, you are changing the subject of the argument. You initially asserted that assisted suicide did not involve doctors killing people. My counter point was that, though I support assisted suicide, it is, in fact, doctors killing people. If terminal care does involve a cessation of nutrition and hydration along with total sedation, then it to, in effect, is doctors killing people. I’m not trying to be cruel, I believe one should have the right to choose when one dies, but if someone else facilitates that death because you are unable to kill yourself, then they have, by the very definition of the word, been the one to kill you.

        • Eating carrots, in it’s rawest form, is murder. A drivers license,in it’s rawest form is vehicular homicide.

          • I agree with the carrot thing, provided you eat it fresh from the garden, however the drivers license comment is completely non-sensical. A drivers license is a license to operate a motor vehicle. Can operating that motor vehicle result in vehicular homicide. Potentially, but there is a big difference in that, and a doctor taking deliberate measures to end the life of a patient. By your logic, you sir, are a murderer, rapist, child pornographer, jay walker, and any other crime you could think of because you have the ability to do these things.

          • Satire flies, clustering around the head of a conservative…

          • First, satire is at its best when it is pointed. Making an apt comparison can make for brilliant satire, making a senseless, idiotic comparison does not make for good satire.
            Second, please don’t attempt to sound clever when creating a simple analogy is well above your capabilities.
            Third, I’m actually a capital L Liberal. Card carrying and everything. However, if not suffering fools who decieve themselves by skipping over the inconvenient truth is the trait of a Conservative, then I guess I better change parties.

          • Well, I’ll talk to my writers.

            Anyway, carrots aren’t sentient, or in any way conscious. How can that possibly be murder.

            And even as you thought the drivers license thing was crap, you got the point: because you have the ability, motive, means, opportunity, permission, skills to kill, or allow, or assist someone to kill themselves as a doctor, doesn’t make you a murderer.

          • I would point out that you were the one to say murder, not me. Murder requires unlawful killing with malice of another human being. I said doctors would be killing people, which is undeniable. As for the carrot thing, I was trying to be generous, because at least in that situation you were endig a life. it was the lesser of two evils.
            Also, sorry if I overreacted to the Conservative thing. it seems to be the defacto charge layed against anyone who doesn’t skew way to the left.

          • Oh, and if the ‘conservative’ thing was ad hominem, I apologize.

  8. No one has the right to put into their own arms the right to execute. Any person who committed any form of crime defined by their own country’s law is entitled to a day in court. A mob’s fury or even a mass of uprising is not a license to kill anyone especially when one is fighting for so called “justice” when they themselves do not know to apply or practice it.

  9. Is it right for a kidnapper to be kidnapped by the authorities? Should not the family of a murder victim be able to seek restitution from the murderer, with his life as the bargaining chip? Should the ‘correct’ sentence be what the murderer agreed to suffer in advance of his crime?
    Those who disparage the death penalty should be prepared to pay the costs of incarceration. Those who agree in advance to suffer the death penalty should pay the costs of an execution.

  10. Who writes your headlines? It’s not a matter of whether murderers deserve to hang. It’s a question of whether we have confidence in those who base their political currency on stooping to the same level.