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Dief votes to abolish capital punishment

"You shall be hanged by the neck until you are dead." A judge has uttered these words to 1,300 Canadians. More than 700 of them actually went to the gallows before Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976. But opinions on the noose have tended to shift over time. Protests in the 1960s were met with questions about preventing the murder of police officers and prison guards. Today, the debate is ongoing, especially for multiple murderers like Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo.

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Prime Minister John Diefenbaker is against capital punishment because he's afraid to see an innocent man go to the gallows. He was a defence lawyer for years in Saskatchewan, and as prime minister once granted reprieve to a young Canadian boy. Steven Truscott, 14, was sentenced to "hang by the neck" for the rape and murder of 12-year-old Lynne Harper. Although Truscott no longer faces the death penalty, he is still in jail.

On CBC Radio in 1966, Diefenbaker says there is "every reason for a full and complete investigation" into the Truscott case.
. Diefenbaker commuted 52 of Canada's 66 death sentences during his term from 1957 to 1963.
. In 1967, the government passed temporary legislation commuting all death sentences, except for killers of on-duty police officers and prison guards. This five-year moratorium was renewed in 1972. Although the law passed, no Canadian was executed after 1962.
. Diefenbaker was known as a great orator and civil libertarian. As prime minister, he introduced the Bill of Civil Rights in 1960.

. In the runup to the 1966 vote on whether to abolish capital punishment, This Hour Has Seven Days conducted an interview with Steven Truscott's mother Doris.
. Truscott, who almost hanged for a murder he claims he never committed, was released on parole in 1969. In 2003, the case is still unresolved. At the initial court case, evidence that could have led to a different verdict was withheld, including witnesses who did not testify.
Medium: Radio
Program: The Nation's Business
Broadcast Date: April 13, 1966
Guest(s): John Diefenbaker
Duration: 3:48

Last updated: September 26, 2012

Page consulted on June 2, 2014

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