Medicine Hat murder accomplice just might fit the bill
A recent decision by the governing Conservative party to not attempt to intervene in the cases of Canadians sentenced to death in foreign countries has brought a good deal of predictable responses, most of them consisting of contempt and revulsion.
There's actually good reason for this. However, many of these individuals have taken it upon themselves to try to push the issue into a larger debate about the validity of the death penalty itself.
In this, they're wrong.
For proof, one needs look no further than the recent media blizzard surrounding the sentencing in regards to the murders of Marc and Debra Richardson, and their eight-year-old son.
On April 23, 2006, the Richardsons were stabbed to death by their 12-year-old daughter and by Jeremy Allan Steinke, then 23 years old, who had been romantically involved with her.
During the subsequent trial, a number of facts emerged. First off, it turned out that the girl herself was severely mentally ill, suffering from both conduct disorder and oppositional defiance disorder.
The girl's sentence, a meagre 4-year term what will be split between prison and a psychiatric hospital, followed by 4 1/2 years of supervised community living, certainly doesn't fit the bill. However, while it's very unlikely she'll successfully rehabilitate so long as she refuses to accept moral or criminal responsibility for her actions, her mental illness just may turn out to be treatable with the proper therapy and medication. The young age of the convicted, furthermore, obligates society to at least give her the opportunity.
But the defense for Steinke isn't nearly so clear.
While the girl's case contains varying mitigating factors, Steinke's case contains the polar opposite.
First off, not only is mr Steinke a murderer, but he's also a sex offender -- a 23-year-old (now 24) having sex with a 12-year-old. The revulsion associated with this act aside, Steinke reportedly joined with her in the murders she planned for two reasons: first, because it was the only way she would accept a marriage proposal from him, and secondly, because she had allegedly cut him off from sex.
Steinke, a grown man, was willing to engage in the act of murder in order to maintain his sexual relationship with someone who was (at the time) 11 years his junior.
Naturally, this is a very disconcerting fact, and for obvious reasons.
This is not actually to say that Steinke should be put to death. Far from it. However, in a case such as Steinke's, the state should have the death penalty on the books for consideration, even if it remains unused.
Those who steadfastly oppose the death penalty all too often forget that the justice system is actually meant to have four purposes, not merely two. Pierre Trudeau himself did this, when he abolished the death penalty, citing that it had dubious merits in terms of either rehabilitation or deterrence.
Aside from rehabilitation and deterrence, the justice system is also meant to embody two other purposes: punishment and, most importantly, the protection of society.
In terms of punishement, the death penalty should be considered inapplicable. For these particular purposes, the death penalty would appear to be too much like state-inflicted revenge. Revenge is not justice. The desire for revenge stems from an emotional response -- our legal system is supposed to be devoid of emotional response.
The protection of society, however, is a quite different matter altogether. In the case of Steinke, the crown should consider how likely Steinke is to reoffend in a similar manner. If they decide he is, the state is left with two options: imprison Steinke for the rest of his life (actually endangering his inmates), or execution.
Although those who oppose the death penalty most stringently may loathe to admit this, the death penalty is actually the more humane of the two options.
Now, all this being said, a reinstated death penalty would require a myriad of restrictions, many of which may result in its disuse altogether.
First off, should an accused's very life be at stake in criminal proceedings, the burden of evidence simply must be tantamount to this reality. Proof of guilt must be absolute, and objectively and scientifically unassailable.
Secondly, the death penalty would always need to remain the punishment of absolute last resort, and only be applied in cases where the accused is not only nearly certain to reoffend, but also certainly irredeemable. (Considering the political pressures that have shelved a psychological diagnostic test for determining whether or not an individual is psychopathic, this would be a doubly hard condition to meet).
Finally, were the death penalty reinstated in Canada, it would be of absolute necessity to guarantee at least one appeal, in order to be absolutely sure that the death penalty fits.
In otherwords, the criteria necessary to execute an individual should be so strict as to almost prevent its use. The death penalty isn't necessarily something that should ever actually be used. However, it's an option that should remain open to Canada's justice system for those cases in which the convicted is simply such an imminent threat to society that they are guaranteed to reoffend in a similar fashion.
This would pretty much restrict those elligible for the death penalty to serial murderers and unrepentant pedophiles. If anyone believes that serial murders and unrepentant pedophiles can safely be released back into general public, they seriously need to give their head a shake.
Whether or not Jeremy Allan Steinke would actually fit the necessary criteria is a matter for debate.
But Canadian courts should be able to consider the death penalty as an option for individuals like Steinke, even if it never actually gets used.