Saturday, February 17, 2007

A Death Sentence for the Death Sentence?

Today's paper had lots of interesting news bits. Or, maybe it's just that because it's Saturday, I have time to do more than scan.

There was a two-page, centre spread about the US shift away from the death penalty that I thought was pretty interesting. New Jersey has a bi-partisan bill coming before its state legislature that would ban it in that state. If it passes and the Democratic governor signs it into law, New Jersey will be the first state to repeal its death sentence law. Mind you, the state, which re-instituted the death penalty as a sentence in 1982, hasn't carried one out in the quarter century since.

A dozen other states have put a moratorium on the death penalty after reports and studies began questioning the use of lethal injection; the method favoured by most because it's supposedly humane.

And, for the first time in many years, Americans slightly favoured life imprisonment over the death penalty in a Gallup poll. Meanwhile, executions themselves have fallen almost 50 per cent since their heyday in 1999.

I have always opposed the death penalty. I think it's expensive, hypocritical, misapplied, disproportionately applied and needless. I've nothing against killing the bad guys when they're beyond the arm of the law, but once in custody, I say lock 'em up under the least nice circumstances you can constitutionally get away with and leave them to rot.

The death penalty is also irreversible once carried out. In Illinois, it was suspended after a report showed more men on death row had been exonerated than actually executed. That means, in more than 50 per cent of the cases, someone who should not have been sentenced to death was. Some analysts say the possibility of an innocent person being executed has been largely minimized through judicial appeals, overviews, etc. I say that if the courts can be wrong more than 50 per cent of the time in their judgments on accused in capital cases, than the system is almost certainly irredeemably flawed.

For those who do favour the death penalty, here are the nations that most used it in 2005, according to their own reporting (so, take it for what it's worth). China had almost 20 times the reported executions of any other nation at just under 1,800. Iran (94), Saudi Arabia (86), and the US (60) were the next three, followed by Pakistan, Yemen, Vietnam, Jordan, Mongolia and Singapore. Is that really company you want to keep?

Meanwhile, in Canada, meetings between the RCMP and CSIS (our intelligence service) and minority community representatives is the stuff of high comedy, if a transcript obtained and excerpted today is any indication.

The meetings, labelled a "circus" by some in the know, were instituted three years ago. At this particular meeting there were about 50 invited guests, from various religious and ethnic backgrounds.

It started off with a Muslim complaining that 9/11 did not involve Muslims and 7 of the hijackers are still alive.

Then, the wife of one of 18 Muslim men accused of terrorist activities in Ontario complained a military exercise was held outside her children's Islamic school (military exercise in this case, no doubt, meaning a soldier in uniform walked by on his way to get cigarettes at the corner store).

Imam Ali Hnidy, no stranger to preaching to a terrorist or two, whined it had been brought to his attention that six Muslims couldn't get security clearances for sensitive government jobs.

The Canadian Arab Federation knocked the government for deporting its "Muslim brothers" for terrorism.

Then, the meeting, according to the report, digressed into a shouting match between rival factions of, you guessed it, Muslims.

Now, to be fair, one Muslim representative did urge fellow adherents to stop venting and another applaused the way police and CSIS have been acting.

But the police and CSIS are wasting their time here. If they want to reach Muslims, they should bypass the official mouthpieces, hateful clerics and sketchy organizations and go directly to the people.

If, as Muslim leaders in Canada claim, the terrorist element and their supporters are a small minority, then meeting with people who would be open to a constructive, intelligent dialogue instead of just showing up to go on insane rants shouldn't be too hard.

Finally, for today, anyway, the Canadian Liberal Party is now starting to remind me of the suicide squad from Monty Python's Life of Brian; the guys who rush up at the end of the movie after Brian is strapped to the cross, pull out their swords - leaving him to think he'll be rescued - and then fall on them before tapping their toes to the film's closing song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

Since they elected Stephane Dion as party leader about six weeks ago, the Libs have a) joined the other opposition parties in passing a motion calling for the Kyoto Accord standards to be met despite the fact the Liberals themselves knew it was impossible without eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs and never did a thing to meet it while they were in power;
b) indicated their willingness to let a key piece of anti-terror legislation expire. It was their legislation in the first place and is still supported by many current Liberal MPs;
c) tried to turn Afghanistan into a Conservative albatross, despite the fact it was the Liberals who sent the soldiers there and made a commitment to have them in active battle and to serve until 2009. And, this is also despite the fact that there is measurable progress being made in Afghanistan.

I wonder how stupid the Liberals think people really are? They seem as though they're trying to absorb the NDP voting bloc because they know they've lost the centre and right. But, the NDP - as stupid and wishy-washy as they frequently are - are at least consistent in their silly ideology.

Canada will almost certainly have an election this year. In the last three elections, the Liberals went from a majority government, to a minority government, to opposition. If they keep this up, they might very well plummet directly to afterthought.

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