OTTAWA — A Conservative senator has backed away from an unconventional proposal for reducing prison costs: give convicted murderers a rope and let them decide whether to hang themselves.
“Basically, every killer should (have) the right to his own rope in his cell. They can decide whether to live,” Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu said.
However, he later told a Montreal radio station he’d gone too far.
“The comment was altogether inappropriate,” he said.
Boisvenu became a prominent victims’ rights advocate after his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 2002. He was appointed to the Senate two years ago by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
The senator made his outspoken comments on his way into a committee meeting.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper distanced himself from the remark.
“We all understand that Sen. Boisvenu and his family have suffered horribly in the past and, obviously, I think we understand his emotions in that regard,” he said during the House of Commons question period.
The senator also said the death penalty should be considered in certain cases when there’s no hope of rehabilitation. He said limited use of capital punishment could save money.
He cited the case of the Shafias — the Montrealers who were convicted this week of killing four female family members. Boisvenu estimated that it will cost taxpayers $10 million to keep them locked up. They were sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years.
He also cited the example of serial killer Clifford Olson, who spent three decades behind bars before he died last September.
“In a case as horrible as Olson’s, is there really a discussion to be had on this?” he asked. “For people who have no possibility of rehabilitation? People who have killed dozens of women? I don’t have much pity for that.”
Boisvenu made it clear, however, that he disagrees with regular use of the death penalty. Canada abolished capital punishment in 1976 and the last executions were in 1962.
The senator’s comments follow several high-profile prison suicides in Quebec, in which hanging was the suspected cause.
Interim NDP Leader Nicole Turmel said Boisvenu was urging people to kill themselves.
“It is illegal to counsel or encourage someone to commit suicide,” she said. “That is exactly what Conservative Sen. Boisvenu has just done.”
Interim Liberal leader Bob Rae called Boisvenu’s comments “completely unacceptable.” He said providing ropes to inmates in hopes of encouraging suicide would actually turn prison officials into criminals.
Rae said Boisvenu can no longer continue to be an official spokesman for the Harper government on its tough-on-crime agenda.
“I don’t see how anybody can be a spokesman for the Conservative party in the Senate on justice issues when you’ve made a statement like that. It’s just completely out of line.”
Both Rae and Turmel said Boisvenu should withdraw from the Senate committee examining the government’s omnibus crime bill.
Boisvenu said he’d like to see more debate on the death penalty in Canada, but he noted that the Harper government has made it clear it has no intention of reopening the discussion.
“Under certain circumstances, I think we could reopen the debate,” he said, while playing down the possibility that such a thing might happen.