restricted access Uneasy Abolitionists: Canada, the Death Penalty, and the Importance of International Norms, 1962–2005

From the early 1960s to 2005, with Canada’s ratification of the 1989 Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant of Political and Civil Rights, norms relating to the abolition of the death penalty have been advanced only incrementally, and in many respects tentatively. The process of making Canada abolitionist began at the level of high politics as an attempt to simultaneously make the criminal justice system more humane and bring Canada into the modern era. Parliament officially removed the death penalty from Canada’s Criminal Code in 1976 and defeated a motion to have it reinstated in 1987, and yet both debates were deeply divisive and did little to settle the issue for Canadians, the majority of whom still favoured the practice. This reluctance was later reflected in two high-profile cases involving the extradition of violent fugitives to the United States to face execution that were heard before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1991 and 2000. Indeed, since the initial efforts to remove capital punishment from the Criminal Code, the abolitionist norm has had a tenuous hold in Canada, its eventual strengthening occurring only with the combination of the increase in authority of the Canadian judiciary in the era of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the emergence of definitive norms and laws at the international level.