Let’s be clear: The Times Colonist does not advocate for capital punishment for any crime. For years, our editorial stand has been against the death penalty.
In our editorial on Tuesday, we noted that Britain had introduced the death penalty for looting during the Second World War — a penalty that, thankfully, was never applied, possibly because potential wrong-doers took the hint.
Several readers objected to the editorial, calling it barbaric, among other choice words. So, to clarify, we were not suggesting a return to capital punishment.
We do not want to see the death penalty restored for anything, let alone property crimes; our point was that we need to do something to deal with the sharp increase in business break-ins in Victoria and Esquimalt since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The introduction of the death penalty in the United Kingdom was meant as an example, but it was a bad one that gave the wrong impression.
We have long argued against capital punishment.
In September 1978, for instance, the Victoria Times said “proponents of capital punishment will need to come up with some very convincing arguments if they want to be taken seriously.” That editorial stressed that there had been no evidence that eliminating the death penalty had resulted in an “orgy of killing.”
More than four decades later, our stand has not changed. There is no crime that warrants the return of a medieval practice.
The editorial was not trying to suggest that we bring back the death penalty, especially for crimes that are relatively petty. We are sorry for giving that impression. We did not mean to suggest that a similar measure be enacted here. We do not want capital punishment brought back for any reason.
The intended point was that there should be straightforward ramifications for those who commit property crimes. If the police nab me for speeding on the Pat Bay Highway, the penalty is clear. If they nab me for breaking into a local store, the penalty is not clear; many other factors come into play.
These crimes are hardly victimless. With some people taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak, many store owners are afraid they will lose their life’s work due to COVID-19. They need to believe that the police and the courts are on their side.
That does not mean that the thieves and vandals are entirely to blame; many have been driven to desperation in the past couple of months, because the first people to suffer in an economic collapse are those who are poor. They need our help.
I am well aware that property crimes can bring emotional responses.
When I owned a weekly newspaper, someone broke in and stole a computer, a printer, a scanner, and a fax machine, all items essential to the business. The police were sympathetic.
My cars have been vandalized or burgled downtown, in Vic West, and at my home. Every time I see a dark green bike I check to see if it’s the one taken from my patio. None of those people were ever caught.
On a hot summer day a few years ago, someone entered my house through an upstairs window, then ransacked it looking for jewelry. Some family heirlooms — worth nothing in terms of dollars, worth everything in terms of memories — were among the items taken.
A day later, the Saanich police called to say that everything had been recovered, and someone had been arrested.
I went to court the day he appeared before the judge, and I watched as he was sent behind bars, yet again. I felt no joy in that; in the hallway I spoke to his mother, and sincerely wished her the best of luck in dealing with her son. My short-term issues with him seemed trivial compared to the ones she faced every day.
I am not sure I wanted him back in jail. I wished him no harm. I definitely did not want to see him dead.
So, to be absolutely clear: Capital punishment is not a solution. And we apologize for mentioning it.