The views of Canadians on the death penalty differ greatly according to political allegiance and region, a new Angus Reid Public Opinion poll conducted in partnership with the Toronto Star has found.
In the online survey of a representative sample of 1,002 Canadian adults, three-in-five respondents (63%) believe the death penalty is sometimes appropriate. About a quarter of Canadians (23%) believe capital punishment is never warranted, while about one-in-ten (8%) think it is always appropriate.
Supporters and Opponents
Three-in-five Canadians (61%) say they support reinstating the death penalty for murder in Canada, which was abolished in July 1976. A third of respondents across the country (34%) disagree with this view.
The group that supports the death penalty encompasses seven-in-ten British Columbians and Albertans (72% each), and three-in-five Ontarians (62%). These respondents believe that the death penalty would serve as a deterrent for potential murderers (58%), that it would save taxpayers money and the costs associated with having murderers in prison (56%) and that if a convicted murderer has taken a life, the death penalty fits the crime (55%). Fewer supporters of capital punishment think it would provide closure to the families of murder victims (42%) and that murderers cannot be rehabilitated (23%).
Conversely, most opponents of the death penalty reside in Quebec (45%), but are joined by a third of Ontarians (32%) and one-in-four British Columbians (24%). These respondents are primarily concerned over the possibility of wrongful convictions leading to executions (75%), but most also feel that, even if a convicted murderer has taken a life, it is wrong to take the murderer’s own life as punishment (54%). Half of capital punishment opponents (48%) think the death penalty would not serve as a deterrent, three-in-ten (31%) believe murderers should do their time in prison, as indicated by a judge, and one-in-five (21%) think murderers can be rehabilitated.
Life or Death
When asked to select between two possible courses of action to deal with convicted murderers in Canada, half of respondents (50%) prefer life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, while two-in-five (38%) favour the death penalty.
While Ontarians (49%) are aligned with Quebecers (55%) in choosing life in prison as a punishment for murderers, British Columbians (52%) and Albertans (49%) continue to voice support for the return of the death penalty.
Respondents who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2011 federal election are more likely to regard the death penalty as “always” or “sometimes” appropriate (88%), to support the return of capital punishment (80%), and to maintain a preference for the death penalty instead of life in prison (50%).
A majority of Canadians who voted for the Liberal Party, the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party last year are opposed to the return of the death penalty and express a preference for life imprisonment.
New Democratic Party (NDP) voters are divided on the question regarding support or opposition to the death penalty, but select life imprisonment when given the choice between two courses of action.
Last year, Angus Reid Public Opinion asked similar questions in the United States and Britain, and found that a majority of respondents in both countries supported the continuation or the return of the death penalty. Americans and Britons also selected capital punishment over life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Canadians are unique in the sense that they back the return of the death penalty, but the level of support for this change drops considerably when paired against the notion of life imprisonment without parole. While the mandatory sentence for a person convicted of murder in Canada is life behind bars, the parole ineligibility period ranges from five to 25 years, depending on the offence and circumstances.
Aside from the evident political divide, there is a regional split that should not be overlooked. Western Canadians support the return of the death penalty by a 3-to-1 margin, and prefer it to the idea of life imprisonment without parole. Quebecers and Ontarians are lukewarm on the possibility of capital punishment coming back, and would rather see murderers in prison for the rest of their lives.
Finally, supporters of the death penalty are convinced about its effect in deterring crime and saving taxpayer dollars. The prevailing quarrel for opponents of capital punishment—as was observed in the United States and Britain last year—is the risk of executing innocent people.
Mario Canseco, Vice President, Angus Reid Public Opinion
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Methodology: From February 2 to February 3, 2012, Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted an online survey among 1,002 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panellists. The margin of error—which measures sampling variability—is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to the most current education, age, gender and region Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.