25 years in the slammer could be a punishment worse than death


On April 23, 2018 Alek Minassian drove a van down a Yonge Street sidewalk packed with pedestrians. When his three kilometre rampage ended, 11 persons died while 15 others suffered life shattering injuries. It was one of Canada’s worst crimes ever committed.

Even as Justice Anne Malloy acknowledged the defence argument that Minassian suffered from autism spectrum disorder, she dismissed the claim, saying the attack was the “act of a reasoning mind”.

Minassian admitted that he was influenced by a misogynistic group who blame their lack of sexual activity on women. He said he felt that he had accomplished his mission when asked by investigators how he felt about the harm he had caused.

It was plain enough that no number of appeals or psychiatric evaluations would have averted the guilty verdict on all counts, and the imposition of the maximum penalty of life in prison with a no chance of parole for 25 years. In truth, the penalty could have been a lot more severe if Canada supreme court had not recently ruled that a “no chance of parole” penalty was unconstitutional; it was cruel and unusual punishment.

Judging from newspaper reports, the injured survivors and the families of the victims to their credit were reflective and saddened more than enraged; speaking more of their hurt than about revenge.

In our view, the tone of the victims’ statements matters a great deal, considering the almost daily reports of mass killings in the US that pervade Canadian TV screens.  Knowing that American TV is a constant presence in Canadian homes, many conflate the news of the two countries, and harbor unfounded fears that mass murder is also a Canadian epidemic. It is not, but many willpush for capital punishment.

We hope that such sentiments do not take hold in Canada where capital punishment was abolished in 1976; the last hangings took place in 1962.

There is ample evidence to show that capital punishment is not a deterrent to murder. Researchers have found that the key to real and true deterrence is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction. The death penalty is a harsh punishment, but it is not harsh on crime.

Furthermore, from criminologists to the clergy, they have argued persuasively that everyone has a right to life even murderers, that taking a life cheapens us all and depletes society of compassion – a fundamental requirement for civilized social relationships. They point out that innocent people have been executed because our justice system is not perfect; that retribution is wrong and is problematic in concept and practice.  Archbishop Desmond Tutu states it plainly: “To take a life when a life has been lost is revenge, it is not justice.”

We concur with all of it, and lest you believe that the position we have taken allows “people to get away with murder”, not so we think. Twenty-five years in jail is not a cake walk.

Having your freedom taken away for 25 years, where your entire life is run by someone else day in day out, is described by many as a punishment worse than death.

We agree.