Monday, June 11, 2012

"State vengeance as a penal philosophy"

Excerpt from Pierre Trudeau's speech to Parliament before voting on abolishing capital punishment in Canada.

"Are we, as a society, so lacking in respect for ourselves, so lacking in hope for human betterment, so socially bankrupt that we are ready to accept state vengeance as our penal philosophy?

Individuals who strike back at the murderer of a loved one and kill him in a frenzy of passionate grief have sometimes been excused by the courts because they were thought to have temporarily lost control of their reason. I have received letters from the parents of relatives of victims demanding the death penalty for the murderer, and have been deeply sympathetic to the suffering of those who have suffered such a tragic and cruel loss of a loved one. But the state cannot claim the excuse of blind grief or unreasoning passion when long after the provocative act, and after calm and deliberate consideration, it kills a man.

My primary concern here is not compassion for the murderer. My concern is for the society which adopts vengeance as an acceptable motive for its collective behaviour. If we make that choice, we will snuff out some of that boundless hope and confidence in ourselves and other people, which has marked our maturing as a free people. We will have chosen violence as a weapon against the violence we profess to abhor. Who is so confident that he knows for sure that such an official endorsement of violence will not harden the society we were elected to improve, will not pervade gradually many different relationships in our society? Who is so confident that he knows for sure that acceptance of state violence will not lead to the greater social acceptance of lesser forms of violence among our people?"

Read the entire speech here.

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