On Canada Day there was a murder in my neighbourhood. Tragically, a sixteen year old girl from Northern Alberta, visiting relatives in the Calder district of Edmonton, was allegedly murdered by a sixteen year old boy. Preliminary reports indicated that a house party was occurring at the residence seven blocks from my house. However, subsequent media reports seem to indicate that the party was actually several houses away, that a home intrusion occurred and that the victim and alleged perpetrator did not know each other.
It is the randomness of this type of crime that makes it particularly frightening. Although murders are not necessarily unheard of in the Calder Neighbourhood of NW Edmonton, rarely are they completely random. Not that any homicide is not a tragic loss of human life, but when a drug deal goes sideways or if a domestic dispute fuelled by excessive alcohol consumption turns violent, I have confidence, that given my associations, I am likely immune from a tragic and senseless demise.
However, completely random acts of violence, such as a robbery or break and enter, when the perpetrator finds somebody at home and then reacts impulsively, certainly contribute to home insecurity. Anybody can be a victim.
Last month witnessed a couple of high profile and ghoulish Canadian acts of violent homicide. Luka Magnotta allegedly murdered, dismembered and then mailed body parts of a visiting Chinese University Student. Then right here in Edmonton, Travis Baumgartner allegedly murdered three co-workers and critically injured a fourth in an inside armoured car heist.
Such high profile criminal events, similar to the recent convictions of Russell Williams and the co-conspirators in the violent sexual assault and murder of innocent schoolgirl Tory Stafford, will invariably bring back calls for the death penalty. Understandably, society is so disgusted by certain reprehensible acts that it will see no redemption in the perpetrator and believe that only the ultimate penalty is a just sanction.
I disagree with proponents of capital punishment for many practical and legal reasons.
As with any socially controversial policy, individuals have varied and strongly held viewpoints. As a result, I fear that a jury, comprised of several death penalty opponents, would be much less likely to convict knowing a Sentencing Judge had a death penalty option following that jury’s finding of guilt. One can debate which is worse: finding an innocent man guilty or letting a guilty person be acquitted; suffice it to say both need to be minimized for the justice system to be just.
Moreover, I actually believe that in many instances, life in prison without any possibility of parole is actually a “stiffer” and therefore more appropriate sentence than sentencing a prisoner to death. A libertarian, facing the prospects of spending the rest of his natural life behind bars, might instinctively prefer to reduce the actual time liberty is to be denied.
Regardless, recent measures passed by Parliament are welcomed by those of us demanding longer sentences and more accountability in the Justice System. Abolition of the Faint Hope Clause means that if convicted of first degree murder, an individual no longer has “faint hope” and cannot even apply for parole until serving 25 years of a life sentence. Meanwhile, Ending Sentencing Discounts for Multiple Murderers means that if convicted of more than one murder, a sentencing judge has the option of imposing consecutive periods of parole ineligibility. This means in the case of an individual convicted of three counts of First Degree Murder, the Judge could impose Life in Prison without eligibility of parole for 75 years.
Finally, recent changes to the Youth Criminal Justice Act mean the Crown is required to consider the possibility of seeking an adult sentence when a young person is convicted of murder and the publication of the names of young persons who commit violent crimes is facilitated.
The Government, and certainly this Member of Parliament, believe that people who commit violent crimes must spend time in prison proportionate to harm they have caused to society. After all, we are all potential victims.