Thursday, April 12, 2012

Connecticut: abolishes death penalty; Toronto/Ottawa reject safe injection sites

By Peter Applebome,New York Times, April 11, 2012
 After more than nine hours of debate, the Connecticut House of Representatives voted on Wednesday to repeal the state’s death penalty, following a similar vote in the State Senate last week. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, a Democrat, has said he will sign the bill, which would make Connecticut the 17th state — the 5th in five years — to abolish capital punishment for future cases.
Mr. Malloy’s signature will leave New Hampshire and Pennsylvania as the only states in the Northeast that still have the death penalty. New Jersey repealed it in 2007. New York’s statute was ruled unconstitutional by the state’s highest court in 2004, and lawmakers have not moved to fix the law.

Just when you think there is so little of value coming from U.S. policy-makers, along comes this decision by the State of Connecticut, joining four others in the last five years, to abolish the death penalty.
Of course, we herald the move!
Of course, we would like to see all other states still clinging to the practice to abandon it. However, we will certainly not hold our breath.
In Canada, this week, a report from St. Michael's Hospital and the University of Toronto, commissioned in 2005, on safe drug use centres for addicts, similar to one in Vancouver which earlier received court approval, was roundly and loudly rejected for both Ottawa and Toronto.
The police are still in control of public opinion in both of these centres, even though Ottawa has one of the higher rates of HIV infection from unsafe drug injections in Canada.
The "political right" seems unable, in many parts of both Canada and the U.S. to grasp a different definition of some of the problems facing our society.
Seeing the death penalty as both unwarranted and counter-intuitive to both crime prevention and a healthy ethic, and seeing safe drug use centres as a public health are both so much more likely among the centre-left than both perceptions are among those who consider themselves 'conservative'.
Why is that?
Are conservatives still touting their view as the 'more responsible' given their literal interpretation that the drugs are illegal and a publicly funded safe injection site would contravene that line, in the name of public health and public safety, without increasing criminal activity. The minister of health for Ontario, Deb Matthews, publicly states that since opinion is still divided, the Ontario government will not proceed with funding the safe injection sites "at this time". They know where and how their political "bread" is buttered and they are not prepared to take the risk of the public outcry, led by police officials, that would ensue.
Fortunately, at least on the death penalty in Conecticut, some American legislators are able to see past the police objections, the "law-and-order" lobby, and envision a society that does not need and does not want to commit murder as the last instrument in its own defence, and in the public arsenal of crime prevention.
Justice, like so many other concepts, needs to remain elastic, unencumbered by the rigidity of fixed and vindictive measures, as an integral component of its public face and operation. Government must retain its capacity to view new evidence, including measures that some might find difficult to swallow, if we are to keep a health balance between what some would consider "legal" in the strict sense, and "moral" in the broader sense.
These two will continue to provide tension in our public debates, but for today, we support the abolishing of the death penalty in Connecticut, and sadly take issue with those in law enforcement who rigidly oppose safe injection sites for Toronto and for Ottawa.

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