Abolition of Capital Punishment in Canada

Huntsville Texas USA Death Chamber
Getty Images/Bernd Obermann

The removal of capital punishment from the Canadian Criminal Code in 1976 has not led to an increase in the murder rate in Canada. In fact, Statistics Canada reports that the murder rate has generally been declining since the mid-1970s. In 2009, the national murder rate in Canada was 1.81 homicides per 100,000 population, compared to the mid-1970s when it was around 3.0.

The total number of murders in Canada in 2009 was 610, one fewer than in 2008. Murder rates in Canada are generally about a third of those in the United States.

Canadian Sentences for Murder

While proponents of the death penalty may cite capital punishment as a deterrent to murder, that has not been the case in Canada. Sentences currently in use in Canada for murder are:

  • First-degree murder - a life sentence with no possibility of parole for 25 years
  • Second-degree murder - a life sentence with no possibility of parole for at least ten years
  • Manslaughter - a life sentence with parole eligibility after seven years

Wrongful Convictions

A strong argument used against capital punishment is the possibility of mistakes. Wrongful convictions in Canada have had a high profile, including

  • David Milgaard - sentenced to life imprisonment for the 1969 murder of Gail Miller, a Saskatoon nursing aide. Milgaard spent 22 years in prison, The Supreme Court set aside Milgaard's conviction in 1992, and he was cleared by DNA evidence in 1997. The Saskatchewan government awarded Milgaard $10 million for his wrongful conviction.
  • Donald Marshall Jr. - convicted of the 1971 stabbing murder of Sandy Seale in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Marshall was acquitted in 1983 after spending 11 years in prison.
  • Guy Paul Morin - sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992 for the first-degree murder of nine-year-old neighbor Christine Jessop, Morin was exonerated in 1996 by DNA testing. Morin and his parents received a $1.25 million settlement.
  • Thomas Sophonow - tried three times and convicted twice of the 1981 murder of donut shop waitress Barbara Stoppel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Both convictions were overturned on appeal, and the Supreme Court of Canada prevented the fourth trial of Sophonow. DNA evidence cleared Sophonow in 2000, and he was awarded $2.6 million in compensation.
  • Clayton Johnson - convicted in 1993 of the first-degree murder of his wife. In 2002, the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal overturned the conviction and ordered a new trial. The Crown said it had no new evidence and Johnson was set free.
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Munroe, Susan. "Abolition of Capital Punishment in Canada." ThoughtCo, Sep. 18, 2020, thoughtco.com/abolition-of-capital-punishment-in-canada-510121. Munroe, Susan. (2020, September 18). Abolition of Capital Punishment in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/abolition-of-capital-punishment-in-canada-510121 Munroe, Susan. "Abolition of Capital Punishment in Canada." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/abolition-of-capital-punishment-in-canada-510121 (accessed June 4, 2023).