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Capital Punishment in Canada

Updated: Jan 12, 2023

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

  • Martin Luther King Jr.

Capital punishment, commonly known as the death penalty, has recently become an area of great controversy. With the recent deaths of Brandon Bernard and Dustin Higgs in America, people worldwide have become enraged with the Trump Administration, calling for an end to capital punishment. Although Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, it is imperative to reflect upon how Canadian law has affected and continues to influence our lives.


Capital punishment in Canada dates back to our earliest history. One of the earliest accounts was in 1749, in newly-founded Halifax. A sailor charged with murder was named Peter Cartcel. He was tried and found guilty, then hanged two days later. Before 1859, Canada operated under British law. Nearly 230 different offences, such as stealing turnips, were punishable by death. By 1865 the only capital offences were murder, treason, and rape. Around 710 people killed were between 1867 to the removal of the death penalty in 1976. After 1976, capital punishment was permitted only for members of the Armed Forces found guilty of crimes. The last two people killed by capital punishment were Arthur Lucus and Ronald Turpin on December 11, 1962. By 1998, the federal government of Canada completely abolished state executions.


It has only been 45 years since Canada removed the death penalty. Although many Canadians argue that capital punishment is morally wrong, others believe in reinstating the death penalty. An online survey from Research Co. found that 51% of Canadians support reinstating capital punishment for murder. About 73% of Canadians who opposed the death penalty cited that the possibility of a wrongful conviction was their main reason for opposition.

The Pros of Capital Punishment


  • This argument states that real justice requires people to suffer for the crime they committed in a way appropriate for the crime. Each criminal should get what their crime deserves, and in the case of murder, that is death.


  • The death penalty is often justified with the argument that executing convicted murderers would deter the possibility of them re-offending and killing more people.


  • Capital punishment does not return prisoners to society. However, it does provide prisoners with the opportunity to express remorse and may allow them to atone for the crime they committed.

The Cons of Capital Punishment

Violation of Human Rights:

  • The death penalty violates the most fundamental human right- the right to life. As well, section 7 the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides Canadians with the


  • The death penalty disproportionately affects certain groups, such as mentally ill people, people of colour, or the poor. These people cannot access quality, free legal advice or consult a lawyer, making them easy targets for the police.

It is essential to consider both sides of the argument when discussing the morality of capital punishment. What is your opinion on this issue? Is capital punishment morally correct? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Remember, if you are interested in law, the perfect place to get started is the annual Youth Leaders in Law Conference! Register now!


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