Posts Tagged ‘capital punishment’

“November 27th marks a dark day in the history of the Battlefords. It is the anniversary of the executions which took place at Battleford in 1885, which were also the largest mass execution in Canadian history.

Six nêhiyawak (Plains Cree) and two Assiniboine men were hung at Battleford and their bodies dumped into an unmarked grave that remained undiscovered until the 1970s when erosion on the riverbank exposed some of the remains.

The men were named:

Kah – Paypamahchukways (Wandering Spirit)
Pah Pah-Me-Kee-Sick (Walking the Sky)
Manchoose (Bad Arrow)
Kit-Ahwah-Ke-Ni (Miserable Man)
Nahpase (Iron Body)
A-Pis-Chas-Koos (Little Bear)
Itka (Crooked Leg)
Waywahnitch (Man Without Blood)

Some facts about the hangings at Battleford:

1. Judge Rouleau, the man who sentenced the eight men to die at Battleford, had his house in Battleford burned during the Resistance: The local newspaper at the time reported that Judge Rouleau: “is reported to have threatened that every Indian and Half-breed and rebel brought before him after the insurrection was suppressed, would be sent to the gallows if possible. In view of all the circumstances, and particularly as Judge Rouleau was a heavy loser pecuniarily by the Indian outbreak at Battleford, it is contended that he should not have been allowed to preside at the trial of the prisoners. A memorial has been received by the Department of Justice asking that the matter be investigated.”

2. Although the men spoke Cree – not English, none were provided with a translator at their trials.

3. Almost all of the historical writings about the hangings were written from the perspective of settlers. Blood Red the Sun and other narrative accounts paint the men as criminals. Barry Degenstein, local author of In Pursuit of Riel, as one relatively recent example, has continued to assert the men were “cold blooded murderers of innocent civilians.” (See: https://www.newsoptimist.ca/…/grave-not-that-of-heroes-and-…) It is important to remember that the North West Mounted Police (now Royal Canadian Mounted Police) played a major role in colonizing the region around the Battlefords and committed serious violent acts against Indigenous people here. The history of the Battle of Cut Knife Hill and other major events are primarily told in history books and other accounts from the perspective of the colonizers and settlers. (See also: Views from Fort Battleford: Constructed Visions of an Anglo-Canadian West https://archive.org/details/ViewsFromFtBattleford)

4. Hayter Reed, the Assistant Indian Commissioner in 1885, wanted a public execution. He asked the Lieutenant Governor to send any Indians who were sentenced to death during the second series of Regina trials so they could be executed with those sentenced to die in Battleford. He insisted that “the punishment be public as I am desirous of having the Indians witness it – no sound thrashing having been given them, I think a sight of this sort will cause them to meditate for many a day and besides have ocular demonstration of the fact.” This was echoed in the local newspaper. The Saskatchewan Herald’s P.G. Laurie understood the importance to the government of making the hangings a public spectacle. “We are not in favor of public executions as a rule,” wrote Laurie, “but we believe that in this instance it would have a wholesome influence on the Indians at large to have the extreme penalty of the law so carried out on those whom the court may find guilty.” Laurie viewed the hangings as a type of deterrence to further violence, arguing that the calm administration of punishment would impress the Native population more than further battlefield bloodshed. Laurie also agreed with the government that the executions should happen at the place of the capital trials, in Battleford. Laurie argued, “[I]f the Department of Justice will.. .permit the executions to be public, the sight will have such an effect upon the native beholders as will make them think twice before they again take up arms.” (See “A Lesson They Would Not Soon Forget” Chapter 3: https://drive.google.com/…/1yvqkd4LfbfO4YC5mWcQS0QfCPVEWNo_k)

5. The biography of Senator John Tootoosis notes at page 77 that among the witnesses at the hangings were “the Indian children from the Battleford Industrial School who had also been brought to see the eight men die. It was a part of their education that none of them would soon forget!”

6. One week prior to the hangings, Prime Minister John A. MacDonald wrote in a confidential letter to the Indian Commissioner: “The executions… ought to convince the Red Man that the White Man governs.”

7. Little Bear continued to assert that he was innocent until his death.

8. Loyal Til Death (a thoughtful account of the true history of this period by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser – https://www.amazon.ca/Loyal-Till-Death-North-West-Rebell…/…/) discusses the terrorizing effect the hangings had on Indigenous people in the region: “As for the Indians assembled in front of the gallows, they watched in quiet horror as the men dropped to their doom and then silently moved off once the bodies had been placed in the coffins. Nothing was said or done. They simply returned to their reserves, trying to put behind them the shock of the executions. But to this day, the executions have remained a numbing event, comparable to an old scar on the soul of a people. Elder Paul Chicken of the Sweetgrass reserve recalled how the Indians of the area lived in morbid fear of being picked up and tried before "Hanging Judge Rouleau.” Dressyman’s grandson, meanwhile, related how his reprieved grandfather and several other men were forced to watch the executions and threatened with a similar fate if there was any more trouble. “My grandfather was there, he saw them hung, he watched it all,” he recounted. “They didn’t like the hanging… the law overdone it.” Don Chastis, a descendent of one of the Cut Knife warriors, said that he often heard the Elders speak of the bravery of the condemned men, how they all sang on the platform in the face of death. He also speculated that the police refused to release the bodies for a traditional burial because the government did not want the men glorified as braves. “So they were forbidden to have anything to do with them. That’s why they buried them right there in a mass grave,” Chastis said. “It would have defeated the whole purpose of the hanging if they let these people [bodies] go.” The Battleford trials and executions accelerated the exodus of Indians to the relative safety of the United States.“ (At page 226-227 of Loyal Til Death.)

9. There are almost no artistic works or photographs that depict the hangings other than the attached illustration from "Loyal Til Death” by Blair Stonechild and Bill Waiser – https://www.amazon.ca/Loyal-Till-Death-North-West-Rebell…/…/

We remember the eight men who were executed at Battleford, and encourage people to consider the perspective of the historical accounts and begin working to decolonize the accounts of this history.

Is it time to consider exonerating or posthumously pardoning the eight warriors executed at Battleford?

(See: https://www.cbc.ca/…/pm-trudeau-exonerate-tsilhqotin-chiefs…)”

– from the Battleford Residential School Facebook page

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“492 Prisoners in Penitentiary,” Kingston Daily Standard. September 5, 1912. Page 02.

Largest Number Since Year 1839.

Sixty Lifers Also Mark Record – Fewer Women Convicts – Parole Release Nearly 600.

Portsmouth Penitentiary now boasts a population of four hundred and nine-two, the largest since 1839, when six hundred and twenty names were on the roll call. Of these, sixty are life prisoners, also a record number. Despite these figures there has been a slight decrease in the number of convictions especially those of a serious nature. This is because of the changed attitude of the judges in regard to capital punishment. Of the 442 souls only eleven are women. This much smaller than usual, the record being 30.

The parole system has been in effect since 1900 and since that time 580 convicts have been released upon the conditions of the act. This, of course, must be taken into consideration when one looks at the figures in total.

Upon the whole the conditions among criminals are better than they were even a few years ago. The parole system is one feature which has been instrumental in reducing that criminal type of convict, who disheartened and desperate, has been truly a menace to society. The realms of insanity and crime have also been more clearly defined, with encouraging results

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“Maximum Insecurity,” The Globe and Mail. September 5, 1980. Editorial. Page 06.

The recent hostage-taking at the Laval Penitentiary in Quebec has left behind it a chorus of voices offering quick and easy answers to an extremely irksome question: why are there disorder, violence and despair in Canada’s large maximum-security penal institutions? The culprits, if we are to believe these voices, are long prison sentences, especially the mandatory 25-year term for first-degree murder. According to the protesters, these sentences breed hopelessness and frustration; they produce desperate deeds by desperate men. The solution? Reduce the mandatory sentence by 10 or even 15 years. The result? We shudder to think.

There can be no denying the gravity of the problems that exist in such prisons as Laval in Quebec or Millhaven in Ontario; nor can there be any doubt that solutions are urgently required, before more hostages are seized or more lives taken. But the problems lie not with the prisons themselves. Huge, fortress-like institutions, containing hundreds of inmates, these compounds have always been and always will be plagued by disorder. It makes little difference whether a man is sentenced to five years or 25 years: imprison him in subhuman condition and he will respond accordingly.

There is nothing radical in this observation, and there is certainly nothing new. In 1938, the Archambault Royal Commission of Inquiry into Canada’s penal system recommended the establishment of much smaller, more manageable prisons. So did the Fauteux Report in 1956. So did a penal study commissioned by former Justice Minister Guy Favreau in the mix-Sixties. So did a 1971 federal task force headed by J. W. Mohr. But no heed was taken. The current ailments, and their recurrent eruptions, are nothing if not predictable; they are natural thread in the Canadian penal fabric – a fabric that fundamentally has remained unchanged for decades.

There are many who argue that the establishment of a 25-year mandatory sentence for first-degree murder was little more than a sop to those who opposed the abolition of capital punishment, that its purpose was exclusively political, and that it has no penal value. But consider the matter in another light. First-degree murder – the deliberate, calculated taking of human life – is a crime of the utmost horror and must be met by the severest punishment. If this is not to take the form of capital punishment (and we firmly believe that it must not), then what punishment will answer? Society in general and potential murderers in particular must be left in no doubt that this crime, above all crimes, a repudiated utterly. There is neither justice nor safety in the proposal that convicted first-degree murderers be returned to the streets before they have shaken off their murderous intent. Common humanity and civil order both demand that the punishment be long.

And, so, the punishment must be long. But it must also be humane. So long as we continue to dump huge numbers of men into the great, unwieldy cauldrons that in Canada pass as penal institutions, we must shoulder the blame for the bloody consequences. The present federal Solicitor-General, Robert Kaplan, can and must change that – by breaking Canada’s hulking prisons into smaller units, by locating them near large urban areas where they will have access to extensive rehabilitative resources, by giving them a human face. The shame is not that there is no solution; the shame is that the solution has so long been apparent, and so long been ignored.

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The “Gallows” fire prevention sign in Manning Park, British Columbia. 1947 From Vancouver archives. A prop cigarette shown being hung in attempt to prevent forest fires.

via reddit

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Barry Philp, “[Parade of pickets carrying signs protesting capital punishments walked for four hours outside the Don jail in 22-degree cold. Mostly of university age; they dispersed; some crying; moments after the notices of the hangings were posted on the jail door. About 100 pickets took part in the demonstration.]” 

Toronto Star archives, 1962. Toronto Reference LibraryBaldwin Collection. Call Number: tspa_0119750f

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law-preserving violence
is a threatening violence. And its threat is not intended as the
deterrent that uninformed liberal theorists interpret it to be. A
deterrent in the exact sense would require a certainty that
contradicts the nature of a threat and is not attained by any law,
since there is always hope of eluding its arm. This makes it all the
more threatening, like fate, on which depends whether the criminal is
apprehended. The deepest purpose of the uncertainty of the legal
threat will emerge from the later consideration of the sphere of fate
in which it originates. There is a useful pointer to it in the sphere
of punishments. Among them, since the validity of positive law has
been called into question, capital punishment has provoked more
criticism than all others. However superficial the arguments may in
most cases have been, their motives were and are rooted in principle.
The opponents of these critics felt, perhaps without knowing why and
probably involuntarily, that
an attack on capital punishment assails, not legal measure, not laws,
but law itself in its origin. For if violence, violence crowned by
fate, is the origin of law, then it may be readily supposed that
where the highest violence, that over life and death, occurs in the
legal system, the origins of law jut manifestly and fearsomely into
existence. In agreement with this is the fact that the death penalty
in primitive legal systems is imposed even for such crimes as
offenses against property, to which it seems quite out of
“proportion.” Its purpose is not to punish the infringement
of law but to establish new law. For in the exercise of violence over
life and death more than in any other legal act, law reaffirms
itself. But in this very violence something rotten in law is
revealed, above all toa finer sensibility, because the latter knows
itself to be infinitely remote from conditions in which fate might
imperiously have shown itself in such a sentence.” 

Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence,” in Reflections:
Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings
Edited by Peter Demetz. Translated by Edmund Jephcott. New York:
Schoken Books, 1986. pp. 285-286

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“By the time the Joint Committee met, it had been close to a century since
the federal government had determined that public executions were to be
prohibited. Consequently, official concern shifted from monitoring crowd
behavior to considering the feelings of institutional witnesses, namely the
condemned person’s fellow prisoners and the men who carried out the
procedure. Committee members were disturbed to discover that these were
not the only observers, however. In some provinces, notably Ontario, Quebec,
and the Maritimes, executions were carried out in local jails that were
typically located in city centers. In smaller locales, where executions were
infrequent, scaffolds had to be built from scratch, and the sawing of wood
and hammering of nails provided a percussive prelude to the ceremonies.
In towns like Woodstock, buildings surrounding the local jail supplied rooftop
vantage points, and towering trees provided perches for impromptu
observers eager to peer inside jail yards. Even at larger city jails, like
Montreal’s Bordeaux Prison and Toronto’s Don Jail, both of which had
permanent, enclosed execution chambers, knowledge of an impending
hanging could draw hundreds of spectators whose only visual reward was
a death notice pinned to the jail door. None of these unofficial participants
was interviewed, but criminal justice personnel uniformly depicted onlookers
not simply as “curious” but always as “morbidly” interested in proceedings. Unruly crowds-uncivilized witnesses who scandalously derived
pleasure from death-presented a considerable problem for witnesses and
committee members.

Both supporters and opponents of the death penalty were embarrassed

to admit that executions frequently inspired undignified behavior. Representatives
of the Welfare Council argued that “the brutalising presence of
the death penalty… [produced] an atmosphere fouled by the morbidity,
melodrama and horror associated with executions.” The carnivalesque
crowd was hardly a thing of the past, according to newspaper writers who
covered hangings. For instance, while the committee was deliberating in
1954, a man was executed in the town of Cornwall, Ontario. The Toronto
reported that a crowd of approximately five hundred could see the top
of the scaffold from the street. The reporter dismissed any hope that they
registered the deterrent message: “‘The crowd, most of them teenagers,
including many young girls, was in a holiday mood, shooting off firecrackers,
joking and laughing for more than two hours before the execution took
place.”’ The emotional impact of executions on other prisoners was no
less worrisome. Warden Christie of British Columbia’s Oakalla Prison, a
man who had officiated at three executions, observed the death penalty’s
decivilizing effects on other prisoners. When a hanging was conducted, he
commented, prisoners “tend more to identify with the person being hanged,
and feel an increased welling-up of a morbid and repressive hatred against
authority and society and all it stands for." 

And finally there were the feelings of prison workers to consider. A longserving
jail surgeon, Dr. Maclean, told the 1954 committee members that
the pronouncement of a death sentence "converts the county jail from a
reform institution to a house of death. A pall of depression from that moment
falls over staff and inmates alike. .. .” Morbid crowds gathered voluntarily
to satisfy their curiosity but officials were forced to witness the
proceedings. To illustrate his point, he told the committee about his experience
of having attended a double execution, after which he had to “pick
his way around the evidences of physical revolt left by the small audience
of police[men]…. This spectacle was too much for them-for me also it
was four or five days before I felt able to resume my work.” The jail
surgeon’s stomach-churning story graphically illustrated that retaining old style
punishment in a supposedly modem country was literally revolting
to those with refined sensibilities.”

–  Carolyn Strange, “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 378-379. 

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“By the 1950s, totalitarian states emerged as the barbaric dystopias against
which Canada’s progressiveness could be measured. Thus, a lawyer representing
the Canadian Welfare Council appeared before the 1954 committee
and quoted at length from an article by Rabbi Feinberg, a passionate
opponent of the death penalty. “‘Our civilisation is challenged by communism,”’
Feinberg had declared. “’In contrast to the amorality of the Soviet
state … the western democracies claim that they are identified with ethics
and religion… .”’ It was not enough for states to operate rationally; in
fact, fascist states had shown what the apotheosis of modem efficiency
could produce. The rabbi feared that Canada would pursue a similarly regressive
course if it retained capital punishment: “’Once the Canadian
people begin to regard the state as an impersonal, inhuman, monolith apart
from themselves, the state ceases to be a servant and becomes the masterand
we are psychologically on the road to totalitarianism.’ ”

While only a few 1954 committee members advanced religious arguments
or made contemporary political observations, most critics of corporal
punishment and the death penalty connected retentionism with retrogressive
thinking. During an exchange with a doctor who had witnessed
executions, for instance, an MP asked whether he considered hanging a
“merciful death” or “an archaic way of execution.” The doctor replied that
he found it archaic. “And perhaps actually inhuman?” the MP pressed.
“Actually, yes,” was his reply. Such exchanges, in which old-fashioned
styles of punishment were discursively linked with less civilized approaches
to criminal justice, came up repeatedly in the Joint Committee’s deliberations.
Of course, imprisonment was “archaic” compared to modern therapeutic
ideals of healing and reform. But the death penalty, and hanging in
particular, had acquired a uniquely antiquated image by mid-century, when
many U.S. states had switched to lethal gas and electrocution. As one opponent
to hanging boasted, “We as a dominion have progressed too far in
the forefront of world leadership to retain this method from the dark ages.”
Thus, if Canada wanted to claim membership among the world’s most civilized
nations, then it had to confront the fact that retaining the death penalty by hanging appeared to leave the country with one foot in the past and
the other in the camp of dictatorships.

Lest it seem thoroughly out of touch with modem penal methods, the
Joint Committee spent much time evaluating the relative humaneness of
new techniques of death. By the 1950s, lethal gas and the electric chair had
been in use for decades and lethal injection, a technique that the 1937 committee
did not consider, had recently made its appearance. While specific
tales of bungled hangings were not the prime focus of the committee’s
inquiries, as they had been in 1937, witnesses in the 1950s spoke more
philosophically about hanging as a penalty whose time had passed. Furthermore,
like stone cutting or other trades overshadowed by the rise of
modern machinery, hanging seemed to have become a lost art by mid-century.
According to Toronto’s sheriff: “Shortly we may… find ourselves
in the position of having a considerable number of condemned prisoners
on our hands with no one trained to carry out the orders of the court.” If
amateurs stepped in, he feared that prisoners would be “tortured as they
probably were in the dark ages. .. .” Anecdotal evidence from various
wardens, indicating that some of the condemned dangled for as long as forty
minutes before dying, suggested that the incumbent “Mr. Ellis” was no
master at the craft himself. In contrast, witnesses mentioned that in England
hanging was still conducted as a trade in which newcomers had to train
as apprentices. As the Final Report noted, skilled hangmen could conduct
executions “with less anguish to the condemned person” than either gas
or electrocution entailed; unfortunately, evidence of bungled executions had
“indicated that hangings in Canada were not conducted with the same degree
of precision as in the United Kingdom.” The rope, a penal tradition
so passionately defended by Gallagher before the 1937 Death Committee, had become outmoded in Canada by the 1950s. Even the death penalty’s
supporters concluded: “hanging [is] regarded generally as being an obsolete,
if not a barbaric method of execution.”


If Canada was to retain the death penalty (and the Joint Committee eventually
affirmed its necessity), then it required a more up-to-date, humane
method. Technology promised to link modernity to civility. The prize went
to the electric chair on several grounds, the chief of which was its scientific
advantages. Lethal gas was actually the more modem method but its
humanitarian appeal, so great in the 1920s and 1930s, had faded in the aftermath
of the Second World War. Aside from its tainted association with
Nazi mass executions, gas had two significant drawbacks. First, chamber
leaks had exposed prison staff to dangerous fumes; second, evidence had
mounted that condemned persons typically struggled to hold their breath and
thereby suffered a long and agonizing death. The electric chair was hardly
foolproof either. Although this execution method had been used since the
1890s, accidents still happened: flesh was burned, hair was set ablaze, blood
gushed out of orifices. Perhaps surprisingly, such “repulsive” results did not
outweigh its potential in the Joint Committee’s mind to deliver death in a
humane manner. Members were impressed that two independent medical
experts, one of whom was a neurologist, determined that electrocution was
“the most satisfactory method.” In keeping with the psychiatric profession’s
enthusiasm for electro-convulsive therapy in the 1950s, expert medical
witnesses assured the committee that “a series of shocks of alternating low
and high voltages” could deliver death without distress to the condemned
or, just as important, to prison staff. As the Final Report concluded, “it is
the only method of execution where it could be established that unconsciousness
was produced instantaneously and that death was painless.” True, the
administration of massive shocks had produced some egregious results, but
the committee was optimistic because “experts maintained that properly
conducted electrocutions would not result in any burning or mutilation of
the body.” Electrocution thus offered everything a civilized country sought
in an execution method: it lessened the margin for human error; the executioner
performed his duty from a distance; and the condemned was launched
into oblivion in a matter of seconds, painlessly and tidily. Even Thorsten
Sellin endorsed electrocution as a highly efficient method.  

This idealized image of machine-like efficiency, so appealing in an era
when streamlining dominated architecture and consumer product design,
exerted a powerful hold over a committee in search of a perfectly calibrated
execution technique. Simple efficiency was clearly insufficient for Canadians
eager to find the most civilized way possible to put criminals to
death, however. Death could be countenanced as a deterrent, but only if it
minimized suffering on the part of the condemned and those assigned to
carry out executions. To proceed otherwise would leave Canada on all fours
with the most barbaric retentionist countries.”    

– Carolyn Strange, “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 375-378.

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“A medical man who had observed eighteen executions at Montreal’s
Bordeaux Jail agreed with Gallagher. Dr. Daniel Plouffe was an “alienist”
who reckoned that most executions were performed satisfactorily. The technical
aspects of hangings interested him less than the impression they made
on the minds of other criminals, however. In Plouffe’s opinion, the “horror”
of hanging, its “repugnant aspect,” endowed it with a unique capacity
for general deterrence: “It is the question of giving an example to others;
and when you hang a man, the criminal population and others are under
an impression of horror; and that is what produces in hanging the more
deterrent effect… it is what surrounds that hanging.” In other words, it
was uncivilized for a criminal to die horribly, but the deterrent impact of
particular execution methods hinged on their ability to deter crime and
therefore to shore up civilized society. Like most of the witnesses who
testified before the 1937 committee, Plouffe grounded his beliefs in personal
impressions, not scientific data. To solidify his point that hanging,
and hanging alone, deterred criminals, the psychiatrist recounted a conversation
he had had with a petty criminal impressed by the death penalty’s
deterrent message. When asked to explain why he had never taken a gun
on his criminal escapades, the prisoner replied, “‘There is the rope-the
g.d. rope. … That is a hell of a game.’”

 The fact that newfangled methods of causing death came from the U.S.,
in contrast to the ancient English tradition of hanging, was another stroke
against gas in the death penalty committee’s eyes. Members were reluctant
to alter Canada’s penal repertoire because influential witnesses believed
that “the rope” had almost mystical powers to instil respect for the law
among British subjects. On the one hand, the Justice Department’s survey clearly indicated that U.S. wardens by the 1930s greatly preferred gas as a
more reliable and less barbaric method of execution; on the other hand, as
one MP observed, “we do have the fact that we have a better criminal record
in this country where they hang people than they have down there where
they do not.” As Gallagher advised, there was no reason to “increase the
present punishment or its horror to the prisoner” but neither was there any
reason to adopt a method “somewhat more humane, and something which
the criminal would prefer to hanging.” Canada’s success in maintaining a
murder rate lower than that of the U.S. during Prohibition suggested that
“a change to something more lenient could hardly operate as a stronger
deterrent.” The final report emphasized these contrasts between U.S. and
Canadian culture (hinting that the former was less civilized than the latter)
to support its recommendation that capital punishment by hanging be
retained. J. Edgar Hoover’s “G-Men” and their Depression-era war on professional
criminals gave Canadians even more reason to cling to British
tradition and intimidate gangsters from moving into Canada. As Gallagher
queried, “’At this particular time, would it be wise to lessen in any degree,
the punishment for crime? I doubt it.”’ To further emphasize the cultural
cogency of hanging, the final report included a letter from a prison
chaplain who claimed that criminals’ knowledge of the scaffold ritual
helped clerics to “prepare them for Heaven.” “Would it be the same with
the lethal gas method? I do not believe it.” Deviating from tried and true
cultural traditions and opting for American innovation would be unwise,
Gallagher concurred, in deference to the British example: “In England they
still have hanging as their mode of execution.” The 1937 committee ultimately
agreed that if hanging suited the mother country, then surely it provided
the right fit for Canadian penal policy, no matter what deadly inventions
Americans might experiment with.

By the time that the Joint Committee began to deliberate in the mid-1950s, the evils of the Second World War and the rise of communist dictatorships
had dramatically shaken faith in the progress of civilization. If
the tidewaters of incivility seemed to have risen all around them, Canadians
congratulated themselves for having maintained their elevated position
throughout the war and into the Cold War era. In this context the Joint
Committee’s task was to decide whether the retention of physical punishment
was more or less likely to keep Canadians high and dry atop the plane
of civility. On one side of this issue were those who argued that Canada
had evolved too far to require such old-fashioned sanctions; on the other
were those who claimed that Canada could not risk unleashing the tide of
barbarism, so tenuously held back with stiff penalties. Predictably, committee members and witnesses took very seriously the fact that England’s
Royal Commission on the Death Penalty had recommended that it be retained
(while advising that its further use be limited). But just as Canadians
began to feel that the Union Jack might not make a suitable symbol
for an independent nation, so English penal fashion no longer dictated
Canadian penal styles quite so authoritatively as it had in the 1930s. When
Canadians looked around the world in the mid-1950s to determine which
other states whipped and executed wrongdoers, they confronted disturbing
evidence that they now numbered among the world’s least civilized

Canada’s chauvinistic claims to civility were especially difficult to maintain
when it came to sanctioning the use of corporal punishment in the
postwar era. England had done away with judicially ordered sentences in
1948, and six U.S. states had abolished the penalty. Thus the lash was even
more vulnerable than the noose to mutually reinforcing charges that it was
both archaic and brutal. When Thorsten Sellin, the world’s reigning expert
on the sociology of punishment in the 1950s, testified before the Joint
Committee, he dismissed claims that whipping offenders had the capacity
to reform or to deter. For Sellin, corporal punishment expressed the penal
logic of retributivism, rather than the modem objectives of reform and reintegration:

[I]ts only purpose is to exact vengeance, a sordid motive for punishment,
which has no place in a democratic penal code. As if conscious of this, the
legislator usually hides the whipping post inside the walls of the prison, safe
from public gaze, like the family skeleton…. The whipping post belongs to
the trapping of a past age or to the tyrant’s arsenal of weapons.

Not only did the infliction of corporal punishment fail to deter, according
to Sellin’s evidence, but it also actually had decivilising effects. First, it
embittered the men who endured it, and second, as Sellin pronounced, it
had “a brutalising effect on those who inflict it.” The executive director of
the John Howard Society applied Sellin’s argument to Canada. If the recommendations
of the 1938 Archambault Royal Commission (which had
called for a renewed commitment to progressive principles of penal management) were to be respected, one could hardly expect correctional officers
to administer care one minute and a strapping the next. “Humane personnel,”
he pointed out, would “find it increasingly difficult to rationalise the
use of the lash or the paddle with the methods now in use in progressive
penal institutions." 

Significantly, the supporters of corporal punishment now wanted to appear
as civilized defenders of a civilized sanction. In an advanced society,
the lash would be used sparingly as a last resort and as an inducement to
reform. Proponents of corporal punishment argued manfully that physical
sanctions and progressive penology were consistent because whipping
could back up welfarist methods, such as probation. And advocates agreed
that corporal punishment was suitable only for specific types of offenders,
primarily male youth. In Ontario Prosecutor William Common’s opinion,
"street corer hoodlums,” “joy-riders,” and “young thugs” were impervious
to softer methods but cracked once faced with the pain and shame of
a whipping. Delinquent toughs found it impossible to maintain their “antisocial”
attitudes once they were “paddled by a burly policeman or prison
attendant and received a certain number of straps over the buttocks.” But
Common shrank from punitive or sadistic rationales, not to mention allusions
to the homoerotic qualities of corporal punishment. As he concluded
somberly, “it is the humiliation and indignity which accompanies corporal
punishment which I think is a most emphatic deterrent.” The
punishment of the body for Common was to be felt in the soul and inspire
the development of self-discipline. Respectable men (most of whom as boys
had likely had their hides tanned by parents or schoolmasters) had absorbed
this lesson themselves and they had every reason to believe that strapping
had certain character-building qualities. Some advocates spoke openly
about their personal experiences. W. H. Mulligan, the police chief of Vancouver
and the president of the Chief Constables Association of Canada,
believed, like Common, that corporal punishment had a unique capacity
to humiliate young men into improving. When asked what instrument he
might recommend, he replied: “I was thinking of my own school days when
we were caned with a willow cane on the hand.” Even the liberal-minded
John Howard Society spokesman admitted that physical punishment could
be an effective means of teaching young men (but not women) right from
wrong. As A. M. Kirkpatrick recounted, “in my school days we were
whipped and sometimes we knew we deserved it and that was all right." 

Virtually everyone agreed that corporal punishment, if used at all, had
to be restricted to cocky young men and male prisoners who became violent
or mutinous. No one took seriously the prospect of whipping females,

and most found explicit talk about bodies of either gender and punishment
vaguely embarrassing. Wardens provided committee members with exhaustive
details about the placement of prisoners on strapping tables, their immobilization,
and the exposure of their bare flesh. Had sexologists or psychiatrists
been called as witnesses, they might have pointed out the
voyeuristic and sado-masochistic subtext of such acts. This was precisely
the Pandora’s box of barbarous impulses that Joint Committee members
preferred to keep tightly lidded. Titillating notions popped out at several
points, but teasing and jokes nervously sublimated them. When the presiding
chairman asked William Common why youth gang "molls” were not
“spanked” along with their male compatriots, he rattled the prosecutor,
provoking him to assert that “assaulting females” was “more or less revolting
to the average man.” The Joint Committee’s unofficial gadfly, Harold
Winch, punched holes in Common’s chivalrous armor. As he reminded the
prosecutor, the “average” man might very well spank his errant daughter
when she was naughty. And if legislators were so chivalrous, Winch added,
why did they not exempt women from the death penalty? As pointed
as this heckling was, it still delicately sidestepped the scandalous prospect
of “burly” male guards strapping or paddling women’s bare buttocks. The
Joint Committee members confronted the pornographic qualities of physical
punishment again when members debated the prospect of observing
an actual whipping. MP Ann Shipley, one of three women on the committee,
shocked her fellow members when she argued that watching lashes and
whips in action would be more instructive than merely gazing at them and
listening to prison officials describe them. The warden of the Kingston penitentiary
politely declined her request, protesting that the prospect would
be “very embarrassing” (to whom, he did not specify). Again, the notion
of respectable ladies gawking at stripped men receiving lashings was treated
as something of a farce. One member kidded that they ought to watch a hanging while they were at it, and another man piped in that they might as
well see a murder take place if they really wanted to be thorough!”

– Carolyn Strange, “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 369-374. 

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“Death penalty opponent and prominent defense lawyer Arthur Maloney
had a different theory, one that painted capital justice as a game of chance
rigged in favour of the prosecution. As Maloney pointed out, impoverished
defendants rarely employed the barristers of their choice; rather they made
do with the luck of the draw when courts appointed counsel for the defense.
Justice Hope had tried to put this practice in a positive light, reflecting that
it was “always customary for a trial judge to seek out an able young man..
.” Maloney, a veteran of eleven capital trials, countered that freshly minted
lawyers appointed to defend accused murderers frequently had no trial
training whatsoever, let alone capital case experience. Although provincial
legal aid schemes had been implemented in most provinces by the 1950s,
they did not cover the costs of filing appeals. For Maloney, poor men’s overrepresentation
among the executed confirmed that a cruelly rigged crap game
was operating under the guise of the law. When a senator goaded him by
asking if he would prefer murderers to have “a better chance to escape
through legal loopholes,” his reply was blunt: all he wanted was procedural
fairness, the cornerstone of justice in a civilized society.

The Final Report, tabled in 1956, cautiously assessed the conflicting evidence
and shrank from suggesting radical changes. Despite testimony that
eroded confidence in the administration of capital justice (substantiated by
the Justice Ministry’s own statistics on variable execution rates), the Final
Report advised that doing away with the death penalty would be too risky
at that moment in Canada’s history. First, Canadian civilization had failed
to reach the point at which governments could abolish severe penalties. In
addition, Canada could not experiment with laxity because of its proximity
to the U.S. Several witnesses had cautioned that any relaxation in criminal
justice policies north of the U.S. border would effectively announce
open season for “gangsters.” Resorting to the familiar trope of the American
criminal menace to counter considerable evidence of Canadian injustice
suggested that death penalty advocates felt as if they were on the defensive
by the 1950s. As dissenting left-wing member Harold Winch
cynically remarked: “I cannot help but wonder whether executive clemency
is not based on the flip of a coin; heads you die and tails you live.”

The Final Report suppressed such images, preferring to picture Canadian
criminal justice as a complex machine that merely needed to be more
finely tuned to eliminate the risk of malfunctions. For example, ensuring
that the appeal process did not appear to favor some convicts over others
would be critical in the future. Although restrictions limiting appeals had
been relaxed in 1949, the report noted that time limits and procedural complexities
still left the “possibility that a technical slip may deprive an accused
of his right to appeal.” To avert both “embarrassment and injustice,”
the committee recommended that every capitally convicted person be granted
an automatic right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada. Thus it
was hoped that, from an administrative point of view, the infliction of physical
punishment could be rationalized: corporal punishment could be
confined to a last-resort institutional disciplinary role, and capital punishment
could be governed by rigorously fair review procedures. The infliction
of pain and death had been hidden away, its functionaries cloaked
in anonymity, but the ineptness and inconsistencies of penal administration
had been exposed through the committee’s investigation. With minor
procedural adjustments, they predicted that these blots on Canada’s criminal
justice record could be erased. Attempting to reconcile the intentional
infliction of pain and death with Canadians’ self-image as civilized peoples
would entail deeper soul-searching, however.”

–  Carolyn Strange,  “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 364-65

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“Both defenders and opponents of corporal and capital punishment were
troubled by evidence of sloppy procedures and slipshod workers. And they
were genuinely surprised to learn how executions were carried out. Since
1868 public executions had been outlawed in Canada, a political move that
transformed a highly dramatic act into a strictly scripted technocratic procedure.
Hanging remained familiar to Canadians, largely through popular
memory and popular culture (such as dime novels). Yet the actual procedures
and personnel had become mysterious shadow events and characters,
conjured up in newspaper writers’ accounts. Even the identity of the hangman
remained secret, disguised under the “Mr. Ellis” brand name. One of
the committee’s important objectives was to determine how Canada’s techniques
of inflicting death compared to procedures in other civilized countries.
Investigators anticipated that coolly competent professionals would
conduct modern penal administration, but they were shocked to learn otherwise.
As their mandate dictated, if lethal gas, already in use in the U.S.,
could be delivered more professionally, then it might well be a more civilized
means of putting people to death.

With these criteria in mind, Ministry of Justice bureaucrats surveyed state
officials from Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming, Arizona, and North Carolina,
the first U.S. jurisdictions to use lethal gas.  In particular, they asked
whether experts were required, or if they employed “a man of the type who
ordinarily served as hangman?” None of the respondents reported experiencing
trouble finding men fit to carry out the job. In most cases, a regular
guard from the penitentiary was recruited, in some states receiving a bonus
for his extra duties. Furthermore, subjecting the condemned to hydrocyanide
gas was fast and effective. As long as the condemned person was securely strapped and the chamber was sealed, the warden of the North
Carolina State Prison stated, “there is nothing left for the executioner to
do except to press the electric switch, and once the [cyanide] pellets fall
into the [sulphuric acid] liquid, there can be no mistake or bungling, and
death is a certainty for the victim.” The Nevada warden registered his agreement:
“No chance for bungling or messy mistakes.”

In contrast, the committee heard from witnesses who suggested that
hanging required the services of a skilled craftsman. Upon learning that
the Canadian bureaucracy of capital justice had not yet established professional
standards for hangmen, members wondered how applicants were
screened and incumbents evaluated. The committee learned that Canada
retained only one executioner, who traveled around the country dispatching
the condemned. The deputy sheriff of Toronto complained that the latest
“Mr. Ellis” had more than Tommasina Teolis’s beheading and the Winnipeg
mishap to his discredit. Deputy Wills added that he had personally
witnessed another incident in which the hangman had rushed down to the
pit and yanked a victim’s legs because he had miscalculated the man’s drop
and failed to snap his neck. One MP, surprised that there was no training
or evaluation of hangmen, surmised that “A new hangman would have to
do it pretty much by guess, wouldn’t he?” Wills agreed, shocking the committee
and prompting one MP to declare: “that is murder.” The chanciness
of unregulated procedures, not the eventual outcome, clearly prompted
this spontaneous outburst of repugnance.

According to committee members,
Canada had a problem on its hands if it could not find men trained to
do the dirty work of punishment properly.
Evidence of botched hangings was largely anecdotal, however, and contradicted
by stories of hangings conducted efficiently. The guards, the chaplain,
and the executioner were all strict professionals, according to the
sheriff of Montreal, Oscar Belanger. A man who had presided over twenty-eight
executions, Belanger attested to the speedy procedures that allowed
prison officials to take a man from his cell, escort him to the scaffold, strap
his arms and legs, place a hood over his head, and pull the switch-a kind
of lethal ballet choreographed for a five-minute private performance. In
the end, the committee sided with those who felt that Canada’s hanging personnel were up to the task. But it suggested that one central penal institution,
staffed and designed to carry out the death penalty with utmost
efficiency, ought to replace the existing system, which stipulated that condemned
persons be executed in the jurisdictions where they had been convicted.
At such an institution, practices could be standardized and evaluated
more effectively, thereby reducing the risk of mistakes that made the
death penalty seem as barbaric as murder.

By the time that the Joint Committee on Capital and Corporal Punishment
deliberated in the mid-1950s, the penal personnel problem remained
unsolved. Executions continued to be carried out by the roving “Mr. Ellis”
and his ad hoc teams of local helpers, men of uncertain competence
and nerve. But this committee’s mandate was wider than the 1937 committee’s,
and members devoted more attention to the administrative procedures
that took place long before the death penalty or whippings were
carried out. In Weberian terms, by the 1950s Canadian public leaders extolled
the values of legal formalism and rationality so highly that they invested
considerable energy trying to meet those standards in the bureaucratic
administration of public life. The federal state, buoyed by the
unprecedented powers assumed during the Second World War, enthusiastically
expanded its scope and its inclination toward self-analysis. Establishing
a joint committee to review corporal and capital punishment was
only one product of the federal government’s broader commitment to
streamline public administration in the 1950s. For instance, in 1956, the
same year that the Joint Committee submitted its final report, another committee
appointed “to inquire into the principles and procedures” in the
Justice Department’s Remissions Branch presented its criticism of the informality
and procedural anomalies in the old Ticket of Leave system. In the same period an independent royal commission evaluated the legal
defense of insanity and advised that psychiatric definitions be standardized
and applied uniformly.

In keeping with these procedural preoccupations,
the Joint Committee members raised similar concerns about the legal and
political administration of corporal and capital punishment.
Although the Criminal Code defined a limited set of crimes for which
judges could order sentences of corporal punishment, and stipulated that women and children could not be whipped, its application was discretionary.
In general, crimes involving attempted or actual physical assaults,
especially those of a hetero- or homosexual nature, carried corporal punishment
provisions, but robberies and physical assaults on women were
included too. Whippings and paddlings were also carried out in prisons
as punishment for institutional infractions, as annual prison and penitentiary
reports indicated. Committee members were disturbed to discover that
the rate of infliction, both of judicially and institutionally ordered corporal
punishment, varied considerably over time and between jurisdictions. The only certainty, that women’s bodies were exempt from physical chastisement,
was an axiomatic exemption, barely worthy of note. Inconsistencies
on other grounds received closer attention. It became evident that
a judge could sentence one man to fifteen lashes and another, found guilty
of the same offense, simply to a prison term. Once inside, wardens could
exercise even more discretion, although it was clear that the lash had been
used more freely in the pre-Second World War period. Even the instruments
of pain varied from prison to prison. As one committee member
ruminated, “the punishment that might be inflicted in one part of Canada …
might be entirely different to what you suffer in another part of Canada
because they used an instrument which inflicted much less pain.” Of
course, the opposite was also possible, thereby consigning all imprisoned
men to a lottery of pain.

Getting the right man for the job was just as much a concern when it
came to corporal punishment as it was with hanging. On the one hand, whipping was neither a matter of expertise nor as unusual a craft as that
practiced by executioners. Parents, teachers, and military authorities could
all claim some experience wielding paddles, canes, straps, and belts. On
the other hand, the object of corporal punishment-to inflict pain-was far
more difficult than death to measure and far trickier to associate with civility.
Medical officers were required to attend whippings, but they were
merely expected to determine whether or not a prisoner was physically “fit”
to withstand the punishment. As one jail surgeon testified, it was impossible
for guards to administer ten strokes of the strap without drawing blood.
However, he had only stopped corporal punishment sessions, as he put it,
when he “felt that more damage was being done than was meant to be
done.” Thus, the hangman’s art could be measured in terms of swiftness
and sureness, but the pain produced by whips and paddles was incalculable.
If a certain degree of physical “damage” was required to civilize
ruffians, how much would amount to torture?

Discomfort over the idiosyncratic application of physical penalties expressed
itself in arcane exchanges between members and witnesses who
appeared before the 1954 committee. Unfortunately interviews with former
prisoners who had been punished were not published. But men who supervised
whippings were permitted to speak in open committee hearings.
Claiming to adhere to strict rules of procedure, wardens averred that they
and their guards were scrupulous. As they pointed out, only the stipulated
number of lashings was inflicted at specified points in inmates’ sentences;
medical men called a halt to sessions if prisoners seemed seriously ill;
whippings were carried out on special apparatuses in private chambers; and
care was taken not to damage the head or vital organs. But when the committee
members pressed witnesses about the infliction of pain, they shattered
all faith that professionalism and standardization, two of the hallmarks
of a civilized justice system, governed the delivery of pain. Since one guard
was likely to whip or lash a man harder than another, committee members
worried that prisoners might be subjected to different degrees of pain.
Warden Allan of the Kingston Penitentiary confirmed their suspicions:   

“There is bound to be a variation in the intensity of the strokes. That is
bound to happen; we cannot help it." His admission sparked a series of
questions evocative of the modem obsession with detail and precision: 

FULTON: It is clear the object is to inflict pain? 

A: Yes….

WINCH: Would you just raise the arm and strike down, or do you

A: With the lash you have to raise your arm and strike down. With the
strap, you swing.

FULTON: Have you any regulations which determine the length of the
arc? Could they bring it from the back and over the head?

A: Most of them let the thongs rest on their shoulder and come down
this way.

Would be mostly a forearm movement?

A: Yes.

FULTON: And what about the extent of the swing with the strap?

A: That may vary.

FULTON: Do you have any regulations or instructions to your own
officers as to how far back they shall carry their arm before they
start the forward motion?

A: No….

CHAIR (BROWN): The fact remains that it could vary from prisoner
to prisoner?

Oh yes, it can vary. 

Committee members were surprised that ordinary guards, not specially
trained professionals, inflicted whippings and lashings. The option of a
whipping machine (an idea first entertained by Bentham in the late eighteenth
century) was briefly considered but rejected on account of possible
malfunctions.48 In the end, the Joint Committee recommended in 1956 that
judicially ordered corporal punishment, unlike the death penalty, could
safely be abolished, not because pain was an inappropriate element in
punishment but because its imposition was "inconsistent and inequitable.”
Squeamish guards evidently “‘went through the motions”’ reluctantly,
whereas others indulged their “sadistic impulses” in performing these duties,
which they found not at all distasteful. Neither scenario conformed
to the aims of civilized justice: sure, steady, and dispassionate. Furthermore, committee members seemed embarrassed to have learned that “Canada was
one of very few countries in the democratic world still using corporal punishment.” As a tool of institutional discipline, it might continue to play a
role, the Final Report declared, but as a discretionary denunciatory flourish
in sentencing, its time had passed.”

–  Carolyn Strange,  “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 352-362.

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“Such an image is illuminating only if we abandon the presumption that
civility and barbarity (or “heads” and “tails”) are precast or easily distinguishable
to actors forced to choose sides. As the 1937 and 1954 parliamentary
commissioners and witnesses revealed, some authorities determined
that whipping and executing criminals were uncivilized, while others,
invoking the same ideals, perceived that physical punishment, administered
properly, fostered civility. Making such arguments did not breach the
bounds of credulity to the respectable men and women on the committees.
After all, ruthless civilizing offenses, such as the imperialistic missions of
European colonizers, were justified on similar grounds well into the twentieth
century.’ When it came to judging the appropriateness of punishing
certain kinds of criminals, however, deeply embedded cultural norms produced
greater certainty about the civility of penal styles. For instance, everyone
who participated in debates over corporal and capital punishment
understood implicitly that treating men’s and women’s and youths’ bodies
differently was a critical benchmark of a nation’s civility. Those who
suggested otherwise were literally dismissed with laughter.

Members of both committees also agreed that physical punishment had to be carried out
by competent dispassionate workers (prison workers, not refined doctors)
and conducted as far as possible from the public gaze. Thus, it would be
simplistic to characterize retentionists as barbaric and abolitionists as civilized:
committee members on both sides of the debate adhered to shared
norms but they differed over the translation of cultural values into policy.
Subtle shifts in the criteria for civility occurred over the mid-twentieth
century. According to the 1937 committee, adhering to traditions of British
justice and maintaining a firm but fair image justified retaining death
by hanging. Upholding procedural norms was of greater concern to the
1954 committee. By the 1950s, when rationality, objectivity, and scientific
certainty were extolled as ideals of modernity, bureaucratic norms in the
administration of criminal sanctions had become as vital to the impression
of civility as the nature of punishment itself. Tellingly, the virtues of modem
procedural values and efficient techniques framed the 1954 committee’s
justification for the retention of corporal and capital punishment.
Despite their retentionist recommendations, the 1937 and 1954 inquiries
into the nature, administration, forms, and viability of long-standing
penal practices exposed three undercurrents of anxiety and ambivalence
about physical punishment.

First, committee members worried about the
extent and nature of pain inflicted on the criminal’s body; second, they were
concerned about the influence of criminal punishments on those who administered
and observed the infliction of pain and death; and third, they
were uncertain about the messages that old-style penal practices conveyed
to Canadians and about Canadians to the rest of the world (particularly the
British and the Americans). Rather than explore these concerns chronologically
in separate studies of each commission, I examine both committees’
deliberations thematically, focusing first on their inquiries about the administration,
personnel, and procedures involved in physical punishment and
second on their assessments of the philosophical and aesthetic qualities of
various penal techniques. Thus I compare the ways in which members of
and witnesses before the two committees struggled to distinguish between
the civilizing and brutalizing effects of pain and death. For the parliamentarians
who deliberated in the 1930s, respect for British precedents and faith
in Canadian officials to administer punishment fairly and firmly allayed
fears that death by hanging might be uncivilized. In contrast, members of
the 1954 committee found it more difficult to defend the civility of penal
practices tainted not only by their antiquated image but also by association
with totalitarian regimes. Only reassurances that justice could be administered
and delivered with machine-like efficiency, combined with their
reluctance to “soften” justice and invite a potential invasion of American criminals into Canada, outweighed the 1954 committee’s growing conviction
that punishing the body might be inherently uncivilized.

The Investigations

Although punishing the body had never attracted universal support, it was
not until the 1910s that a concerted abolition campaign set the debate formally
on Canada’s parliamentary stage. A lone backbencher, Robert Bickerdike,
focused exclusively on capital punishment and introduced four
unsuccessful abolition bills over the decade. In 1924, another private member’s
bill sank to defeat. On the corporal punishment front, two important
changes had occurred over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. First,
prior to Confederation in 1867, colonial governments had begun to restrict
corporal punishment to men and stipulated that floggings be conducted
behind prison walls. Second, in a series of amendments in the 1910s and
1920s, the discretionary sentencing scope of corporal punishment for men
actually widened, particularly in regard to assaults on females. Periodically
judicial sentences of whippings or paddlings (usually imposed on
sexual offenders, wife beaters, and robbers) drew public criticism. Yet
nothing comparable to England’s Cadogan Committee (which recommended
in 1938 that judicially ordered sentences of corporal punishment be
abolished) was conducted in Canada. Whippings meted out to discipline
prisoners did come under fire after the 1938 Archambault report on the
penitentiary system condemned the excessive use of corporal punishment
in prisons.“ However, this form of institutionalized punishment escaped
sustained scrutiny in Canada until the 1950s, when the Joint Committee
undertook its inquiries. No significant parliamentary action regarding the
punishment of the body reemerged until 1960, when private members’ bills began to attract serious attention and government backing.

By the mid-
1960s a spirited and well-organized abolition movement gained momentum,
prompting Lester B. Pearson’s Liberal government to impose a fiveyear
moratorium on capital punishment in 1967. As opponents and
supporters of abolition lobbied vigorously, the moratorium lapsed in 1972
and was renewed in 1973. Finally, in 1976, a slim majority of MPs voted
to end Canada’s historic reliance upon execution as the "ultimate” punishment. With considerably less fanfare, and absent public debate or controversy,
Parliament had quietly abolished corporal punishment four years
earlier, in 1972. The 1960s and 1970s, an era of unprecedented experimentation with
social and political reform, marked the denouement of Canada’s historic
reliance on physical punishment. Yet penal culture prior to this period was
not inert. As the 1937 and 1954 committee inquiries indicate, underlying
shifts in sensibilities, as well as doubts about the intellectual and political
defensibility of capital punishment, helped to make these dramatic changes
thinkable. The first inquiry, a parliamentary committee’s consideration of
the proposal that lethal gas replace hanging as Canada’s method of execution,
recommended that no changes be implemented. The second, an investigation
produced by a joint committee of the House and Senate concerning
capital and corporal punishment, was more extensive. Again, the
members recommended that capital punishment be retained; however they
suggested that the electric chair or lethal gas replace hanging. Furthermore,
they argued for the abolition of corporal punishment as a judicial sentence
but advised that it be retained to support institutional penal discipline.
Neither inquiry produced dramatic shifts in policy. Both corporal and capital
punishment remained in the Criminal Code until the 1970s; and no
method of execution other than hanging was ever implemented. While the
surface of penal practice remained calm over the course of the mid-twentieth
century in Canada, committee deliberations document that penal culture
was in flux.”


Carolyn Strange,  “The Undercurrents of Penal Culture: Punishment of the Body in Mid-Twentieth-Century
Canada.” Law and History Review, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 348-351

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“Exécution d’un

Forçat au Bagne,” by an unknown artist, LE MONDE CRIMINEL: Histoire des Prisons D’état, Des Prisons Criminelles, Des Galeries, Des Bagnes et de leurs Habitants. Suite de Recits et de Révelations a l’instar Des Mémoires de Vidoq et Des Mystéres de Paris. Paris: B. Renault, Editeur. 1846. Second Frontpiece.

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