Death Penalty in Canada - Abolition Movement's Success

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Today, the death penalty is no longer used in Canada. However, this cannot be said for the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. During this time, though, there were significant efforts made to remove it. Abolitionists, a movement for the eradication of the death penalty, were pitted against retentionists, a group who wished to maintain it. For many years they struggled against one another, with many actions taken by the abolitionists proving futile. Eventually, though, the abolitionists were able to succeed in their battle and overcome the efforts of their opponents. As a result the death penalty was finally abolished in 1976. Despite opposition, the persistence and opportunism of the abolitionists eventually resulted in the elimination of capital punishment.
Throughout the early twentieth century, other events occurred in Canada that played roles in the capital punishment debates. When the issue was first mentioned in 1914, much of the attention was brushed away due to the outset of the First World War. The First World War lasted from 1914-1918, and subsequently Bickerdike’s attempts were not very prominent as they were not on national radar at the time. In the years following the war, Canada had a decade of success in which the abolitionists attempted to bring the issue to prominence. Unfortunately they failed despite considerable efforts in the 1920s and would not have another opportunity for years. In the 1930s Canada went into a decade of economic depression. This resulted in an atmosphere that was not conductive to progressive, as the public cared little for the fates of others when their own were so uncertain. In 1939, the Second World War began and with it, all of Canada became involved. With all efforts so concentrated on the war, there were few opportunities to forward the abolition movement. Following the war’s end in 1945, the country was once more ready for abolitionists’ effort to begin again. However, three years after the 1967 moratorium, the October Crisis occurred in 1970. Afterwards, it had a huge immediate impact on public sentiment. It “generated the strongest retentionist sentiment in 20 years” with public opinion sitting at 70 percent in favour of keeping the death penalty. This was a huge obstacle for abolitionists, as public favour was very much against them. Thus, outside events provided opposition to the abolitionist movement and made it very difficult to forward their agenda.
As a movement, the abolitionists had early origins and compelling opinions. In 1914, Richard Bickerdike was the first man to propose the abolition of the death penalty. His critiques of the death penalty were that it was “murder committed by the state, a blot on Christianity, a brutal unnecessary form of punishment, ineffective as a deterrent and that the possibility of judicial error made it an unconscionable form of punishment.” Thus, Bickerdike took a strong stance in opposition to the death penalty as...

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