The First Execution
One of the earliest records of capital punishment in Canada was when Peter Cartcel, a frenchman, was punished by death for the murder of Abraham Goodsides, an englishman, on August 26, 1749. Many settlers arrived to Halifax, Nova Scotia, from various countries in Europe, such as France and England, during the 18th century. The boats were crowded with people who didn't know each other and who sometimes did not speak the same language. The event happened in a flash. An altercation started between Cartcel and Goodsides when Goodsides said an insult which angered Cartcel, evoking him to stab and kill the englishman. The killing of Goodsides posed a problem for Governor Edward Cornwallis, who was in charge of establishing Halifax, so he decided to follow the model used in the former capital and create a general court. This general court included himself and six other members who had the task of trying cases. The trial took place in one of the very few buildings ashore. Four witnesses and a half an hour of jury deliberation later, Cartcel was found guilty and hung.
Up until 1859, under British law, the colony of Canada punished its civilians who broke some 230 offences by death. Such offences included stealing of food, such as turnips, or disguising one self in a forest. Just 2 years before Canada gained independence from Britain in 1867, capital punishment was change to only punish offenders who committed the crimes of murder, treason and/or rape. The drive to limit or stop capital punishment in Canada started in 1914 when Robert Bickerdike proposed a bill for its abolition. This bill was denied and the law was unchanged even though there were many submissions given to Parliament. In 1967, capital punishment made a big change since the hanging of Cartcel in 1749. Parliament made the decision to split murder into capital and non-capital offences by a vote of 150 to 70 over a 5-year trial period. Capital offences were that of premeditated murder and the murder of police officers, guards or wardens in the course of duty, which had the mandatory punishment of death. Non-capital offences, such as second degree murder, were punishable by life sentences in prison. By 1976, the House of Commons removed Capital Punishment from the Criminal Code and replaced it with 25 years life sentences without possibility of parole to all murder cases. Almost ten years later, in 1987, the House of Commons had yet another vote to determine if Capital Punishment should come back to Canadian law. The results were 148-127 not to restore Capital Punishment and has effectively stopped any attempt to bring it back in the near future.
The Last Executions
In 1962, Ronald Turpin (29) and Arthur Lucas (54) were the last people to be punished by death for their crimes in Canada. Ronald Turpin was convicted of unpremeditated murder of a police officer to avoid arrest after stealing and Arthur Lucas was a well known criminal and pimp from Detroit who was sentenced to death after killing two potential witnesses to a major drug trial. They were both tried and sentenced to death a year after they committed their crimes. On a cold December night at 12:02 am, the two were hung in the Don Jail, in Toronto, Ontario. The event drew mass protests on the night of their execution because many believed Canada should have abolish capital punishment. Lucas and Turpin brought the total number of people executed in Canada to 701. All of the executed were hanged, as followed by the old British tradition.