Oh, for a Length of Rope and a Prisoner

…tax dollars could be saved if convicted killers were given rope to hang themselves in prison…” – attributed to Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu, CTV translation

I always say that every killer should have the right to a rope in his cell and be able to decide on his life, but I’m against the death penalty” – The Star

I heard this on the way home from church this evening, and just had to comment: there is so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to begin. And that it came from one of our leaders in Quebec is even more disturbing. Obviously M. Boisvenu does not believe that prisons should be… or perhaps can be… places where those who convict crimes can be rehabilitated or reformed so that they can eventually be returned to society. I believe this is the general Canadian perspective: we hope for rehabilitation, even if sceptical in its application (Correctional Service of Canada). This is one of the reasons we abolished the death penalty many years ago. He sees prisons as places of punishment and deterrence, where life in them is so terrible and lacking of human dignity that the people who live there are driven to commit suicide rather than live another day in them.

Not only is this statement against the purpose of our prison system (or at least what we hope the purpose to be), it it calling on prisoners to break the law further in committing suicide. Much though I am in support of discussions regarding assisted suicide, this is not the kind of thing I imagine. But the fact is, it’s still illegal. So M. Boisvenu is also calling for Correctional Services to break the law in “assisting” prisoners to kill themselves. Again, this comment is so riddled with shallow thought, lack of compassion and arrogance that it astounds me.

But it has been withdrawn. The Senator (whose post is for life, so he doesn’t have to worry about what he says) “was forced to apologize” for making the comments. So although he withdrew the words, he did not withdraw the thoughts. Indeed: “He regrets not having been able to clarify the idea he wanted to express about serial offenders…” (The Star) And how, exactly, would he have clarified those “ideas”? Perhaps by saying: “death should be considered as punishment for murderers such as Clifford Olson, Paul Bernardo or Robert Pickton.” (Montreal Gazette)

That “such as” phrase becomes a thorny issue, though. Who’s to decide, Pierre? Are you going to figure out who are the “worse offenders”? I’m not sure that’s a good idea: you sound like you’re less than completely unbiased. Or maybe, since we’re talking taxpayer dollars, we should do it solely in terms of expense. If they’re going to cost more than $10 million, give ’em the rope. 9½: they can stay. Too bad if you’re a young offender in security wing. Those costs add up.

And yes: the response from the leader of the Conservative party, Stephen Harper, was even worse. “I think we all understand that Senator Boisvenu and his family have suffered horribly in the past…” Umm… yes. Sure. Absolutely. And I respect anyone who’s able to put such a terrible ordeal behind him. But it sounds like he hasn’t. The man “is letting his emotions over his lost daughters overtake his political judgement.” (Globe and Mail) And that’s exactly why I question Mr. Harper’s use of an person who is so emotionally distraught in such a charged area of government: in spite of such emotional recklessness, he is one of the major Conservative speakers about crime and punishment. So they use his emotionalism when it suits them, to stir up the country for tougher laws: but it becomes an excuse when his comments are embarrassing.

“I have worries about these attitudes, because at the end of the day, these people sign bills. So, it reflects his thinking. I dare hope it is not the thinking of the other senators,” said NDP interim leader Nycole Turmel (The Star).

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