Saskatchewan

Nun against death penalty makes her case in Regina

Sister Helen Prejean has served as a spirtual advisor to death row inmates and to victims' families. She says it is time to abolish the death penalty.

Sister Helen Prejean is working to abolish capital punishment in the U.S.

Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976 (iStock photo)

She has sat down face-to-face with six death row inmates convicted of the most heinous crimes. And she has been present for the very moment they were executed. 

Through it all, Sister Helen Prejean remains undeterred in trying to abolish the death penalty in the United States. 

Prejean spoke at the University of Regina on Thursday night, telling stories about her work with prisoners and victims' families as well as describing the effect state executions have on society. 

Prejean says the death penalty also affects victims' families and prison guards (CBC News)

One of her most famous cases started after corresponding with a Louisiana death row inmate named Patrick Sonnier. 

After serving as his spiritual adviser, she witnessed his execution and wrote about her experiences in the book "Dead Man Walking", which was turned into a Hollywood movie. 

Sister Prejean has been working to end capital punishment of all forms in the U.S. since 1984. 

"You never want to go down the road where you can put your government in charge of deciding with absolute certainty that they can be in control of human life — of who lives and who dies," Prejean said. 

We wait for this closure that never happens. We wait for this justice that never happens.- Sister Helen Prejean, Nun and Anti-Death Penalty advocate

In addition to her work speaking to death row prisoners, she has counselled victims' families, many that have had their family members killed violently. 

She said even their stances on capital punishment are changing.

"More and more victims' families in the United States are standing up and saying 'don't kill for me, it just re-victimizes us'. We wait for this closure that never happens. We wait for this justice that never happens," Prejean said. 

Prejean urging Canadians to re-think new parole legislation bill

The nun from New Orleans also spoke about the recent proposals for New Parole Legislation by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

Under the bill, the opportunity for parole would end for particularly violent murders or instances where a police officer or prison guard was killed. 

Prejean said Canadian should reconsider that proposed bill. 

"People do change. People can be restored," she said. 

"A life sentence, where you never let people out, you have freeze framed them in a terrible action in their life. And we freeze frame ourselves as a society saying 'You stay in prison until you die'."

Thirty-two states in the U.S. currently have the death penalty. 

Canada sentenced more than 1,300 people to death before the practice was abolished in 1976. 

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