Martin’s Criminal Code

Society today is locked in a confused moral puzzle about the direction and purpose of the criminal law. Should abortions be prohibited by the State? Should the death penalty be reintroduced? Is the welfare state conferring ‘rights’ on people who don’t deserve them, and whose morals are being corrupted by a government that buys votes by giving something for nothing? What about the Charter of Rights—Canada’s largest unexploded time bomb? Are our judges too soft? Too hard? There is plenty of debate, there are plenty of fervent opinions. No sign of a national consensus is anywhere in sight.

All of this is, of course, the result of a complete misapprehension on the part of the public of the purpose of the Criminal Law, and the way in which it operates, and is designed to operate.

“If all of us were to receive our just deserts, who would ‘scape whipping?” asks Hamlet. Since we are none of us perfect, and most of us don’t want to be whipped, the basic starting points of the criminal law are the indisputable facts that:

  1. Certain types of behaviour (murder, theft, assault, perjury, for example) are socially disruptive.
  2. Persons who indulge in them tend to make the victims, as well as right thinking members of society (who, but for their social conscience, might well have wanted to do the same), very mad at them indeed.
  3. Victims, and right thinking members of society, are therefore likely to take punitive measures against persons whom they think have been guilty of these actions, unless they can be persuaded not to.
  4. In the course of so doing, victims and right thinking members of society are likely to do a great deal of harm by:
    • Excessively injuring the wrongdoer, so that he becomes thereafter useless as a contributing member of society;
    • Punishing innocent persons wrongly suspected of crime;
    • Punishing the relatives and family of the wrongdoer, who again may be entirely innocent.

A major purpose of the criminal law, therefore, is to deter these self-righteous victims and other right thinking members of society from tearing society to pieces in their excessive zeal to stamp out crime.

Doing so imposes a difficult task on the political authority. It cannot, of course, appear to be on the side of the criminal. Its technique, therefore, is to limit the power of private revenge, by giving the appearance of creating an even more efficient system of revenge on the part of Her Majesty. The criminal law can, from this point of view, in fact be regarded as an elaborate system to prevent unnecessary punishment from taking place.

Some parts of the process are reasonably simple. Once it is known that the Law intends to punish the criminal, and the criminal alone, the idea of a vendetta against the relatives and family of the wrongdoer begins to lose its appeal with the public. Similarly, once the public is made aware of the extreme need to prevent innocent persons from punishment, they well may be able to be persuaded that only those persons who can be proved to have committed a defined offence to the satisfaction beyond reasonable doubt of a jury of fellow citizens selected without bias, should be punished. “It is better that ten guilty men should go free rather than one innocent person should be punished”—and they certainly do, time and time again. How else do lawyers earn their fees?

However, once the criminal has been proved to an independent judge and jury to have committed the offence, the residue remains, and something has to be done, visibly and obviously, to satisfy the victims of violence that the state is doing a better job of punishment then they could. Hence our present, and perennial, debate on capital punishment—the answer to which is, that if it is needed to convince criminals that the law is not toothless, and to convince the public that the law carries sufficient teeth to make it unnecessary to organize vigilante squads, we’ll have to have it again, hopefully in highly restricted conditions. Otherwise, we’ll see a breakdown of law and order—created, not just by the ‘bad guys’, but also by the good ones!

The important thing to remember is that punishment by the state is the alternative to far more drastic punishment by the lynch mob. Our modern prison system was not derived from the idea of making it unpleasant for people to ‘be inside’, but from the ‘cities of refuge’ of Biblical times, and the sanctuary afforded by pagan temples. Here, the person with blood on his or her hands, whether shed innocently or otherwise, could stay in safety with religious protection against the victim or his relatives, at least until guilt was clearly established. The perpetrator stayed until tempers had cooled, compensation had possibly been paid, and the heat was off, after which he would be able to go back home.

In setting criminal punishment today, this concept of answering the question ‘how angry is the public?’ is a much more key element than is generally acknowledged. So the public is frequently hoodwinked by the apparent fierceness of sentences, which are mitigated, often unbeknownst to the public (whose memory is pretty short, anyhow), by mandatory remission, parole, day visits, rehabilitation programs, and so on. Again, this is not necessarily wrong—these activities are in fact probably the best things that can be done in order to restore the offender to become more useful in society in the future—but the public has a feeling of being cheated if what is happening becomes too obvious. Its rightly incurred wrath is not appeased when some offender is seen apparently to ‘get away with it’ from an ‘over soft legal system.’

What about capital punishment? In my opinion, it may have to be reinstated, not because of the murderers, but because of the public, inflamed, often enough, by unrealistic crime fiction on T.V. The difficulty is that the most dangerous variety of murderer is often enough on the borderline of insanity, and so actually more likely than his fellows not to be punishable under the present law (another loophole that the law has created!). The more typical murderer is someone who loses control as a result of drink, drugs, or an intolerable family situation, often coupled with an abusive upbringing. He may well have been convicted because he had a second rate lawyer working on his case, legal aid funds were insufficient to provide a first rate defence, a key witness could not be found, or expert evidence afforded. It is quite possible that he either does not remember now what happened, or is very sorry that it did.

What about some other offences—the abortion controversy, for instance? It seems to me that here, we have the same problem that we have with Sunday opening laws, gambling, prostitution, prohibition—and perhaps also the non-smokers’ lobby. We have passed laws to suit our hypocrisies rather than our actual convictions. We have banned things that everyone else should not do, but we sometimes wouldn’t mind doing ourselves. Morality, though, and legality are two quite different things. The State should only make those things illegal which are quite obviously ruinous to the social fabric. Churches can quite correctly point out to their members that the world will be a much nicer place if they observed much higher standards—the man with two coats giving one to the person with none, for instance—but making this compulsory is not the job of the state. Christianity, if it includes giving one’s shirt away to a person who has already taken one’s coat, is completely unjust. To make it the law of the land is therefore to enshrine injustice in the law. We have far too much of this already in our modern welfare state.

The purpose of the criminal law is to use force to compel the necessary behaviour patterns in all citizens that enable society to exist. Today, we use it to control a hundred and one irrelevant matters, and to shake money out of the pockets of the taxpayers for every worthy and unworthy cause a vote-buying government can dream up. Some people evidently imagine that by enforcing a perfect code of laws, Canada can be transformed into Paradise. Forget it! I respect the do-gooders of the world, when they do good at their own sacrifice and expense. But I would respect our Prime Minister a hundred times more if he took ten dollars out of his own pocket for Rick Hansen, than when he hands over a million of taxpayers’ money, that costs him nothing. Law today is being grossly abused, and consequently made to look asinine. People who would impose higher standards on themselves, and lower ones on the rest of the community, would make an immense contribution to a happier society!

– Gemini, March 1987
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Legislating Morality

So, Catholic Bishops want Catholic politicians to conform to Vatican directives when voting on moral issues—and Catholic politicians are refusing to listen to them!

I’m on the side of the politicians.

We have to understand what the issue is about.

Government is all about imposing law, order and justice. Force is used with the consent of the community, to insist on behaviours that keep society together by stopping people from doing injury to each other, and taking action when they do. Civil and criminal laws set out the parameters of what is allowed and what is not, so that we can all live together in a peaceable and prosperous society. Justice requires that there be a precise balance between damage done by people and penalties imposed on them—‘an eye for an eye’, and so on—and between taxes paid to government and value received from government. Democratic government, for all its faults, has been devised to achieve this result.

Such is the basis of our Common Law, and the religion of the Old Testament.

Christianity is not the same. Jesus’s inspiration was to tell his followers that they could bring peace and healing to a world that had fallen short of keeping the Law, by asking them voluntarily to forgo what justice would have given them: to forgive injustices, to go the second mile, to bless those who persecute them, and so on. Now this is a wonderful way of living, and it makes for a friendly, forgiving, generous society—but the catch is that, if this behaviour is imposed by the force of government, it is unjust.

We see this injustice when we marvel at Muslim countries imposing death sentences for persons dealing in alcohol, or stoning victims of rape because they have been guilty of adultery. What we may not notice is the degree to which Christianity has also been incorporated into law in our own society. Lord Atkin, for instance, established the ‘foreseeability of injury’ test which is the foundation of the modern law of negligence, and so of our whole motor vehicle insurance industry, by a reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Equally, our own laws on marriage and divorce are based on Christ’s “counsel of perfection” on sexual relations—monogamy, permanence, heterosexuality and fidelity, which goes way beyond what leading Old Testament figures—Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David or Solomon, for instance—ever achieved, or Old Testament law demanded.

During the past few years, we have seen a gradual abandonment in Canada of laws that were essentially legalizing Christian morality—things like banning divorce, or Sunday shopping restrictions. The current political debate is about the legal recognition of homosexual unions. The lawyer in me queries the legality of the federal government widening the definition of ‘marriage’, to embrace a matter that was clearly one of provincial ‘property and civil rights’ by the law at the time of Confederation, but that is another matter altogether. The question remains.

In the Old Testament, we read that David and Jonathan had a love ‘passing the love of women.’ Ruth’s dedication to her mother in law Naomi is an equal example of loyal commitment on the feminine side. Homosexuality and bestiality are condemned in Leviticus, along with other matters that today we would disregard as trivial. Adultery is prohibited in the Ten Commandments, but has never been made an offence under our criminal law. The condemnation of homosexuality in the New Testament comes principally from a few passages of Saint Paul, though in the pagan world to which he wrote, it was certainly not a crime.

It is such a temptation—and ultimately a disaster—for churches, who can well expect their members willingly to embrace particular styles of conduct, to attempt to make such conduct part of the law of the land. Surely, the decline of church attendance particularly in Quebec, and disregard for Catholic teachings on contraception and sex out of wedlock by those who still count themselves among the faithful, is closely connected with resentment at the enormous involvement of the Catholic Church there in provincial and federal politics in the years before and during World War II. Politicians elected to represent the views of their constituents have a duty to represent those constituents, not their spiritual advisors.

Churches can certainly tell their members and the world that they have the key to successful living, happiness, eternal bliss and a healthy society for those who adopt their way of life, and that is quite possibly true. They can certainly tell the world that it is going to hell in a handbasket unless people respect certain rules of behaviour. That is very different from using the power of government, rather than that of the Holy Spirit, to bring it about.

– Gemini, 2003*

A Clergyman Looks at the Law

I belong to a rather unusual fellowship that meets at a member’s home once a month. It is a support group connected with the Caveat organization, for a number of people who have lost children, siblings or spouses to violent crime.

If there is one theme that is common to the discussions we have, it is a sharing of the anger we have at the workings of the criminal justice system. Why does it always seem to be on the side of the criminal? Why does an obviously guilty person get bail? Why do we have to go through the harrowing procedures of the criminal trial? Why, at the end of it all, are the victims no better off than at the start? Why, years after it all ends, do we have to go back and relive the horrors we have been through, when the offender applies for early parole? Although, as a lawyer, I can often understand and explain what a judge is doing, the fact remains that the criminal justice system as we have it today is for the most part a re-infliction of the pain of the crime on the family of the innocent victim, rather than anything to bring them comfort.

Why do we have the justice system we have? A lot of it comes from history. Two basic legal systems exist in the world. One is the ‘top down’ system of Roman Law, prevalent in the countries of Southern Europe that once were part of the Roman Empire, reaching Canada through France in the Quebec Civil Code. The other is the democratic, ‘bottom up’ Common Law, received in the English speaking nations from the Saxon tribes that spread across Northern Europe from the Caucasus area during the period of the Roman Empire. If we believe the book of Esdras, they originated when the people of Israel, taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., moved across the Caucasus mountains, bringing their customs with them, based on the laws of Moses, that ‘government should be of laws, not men’.

Saxon criminal law was far less punitive than our criminal law of today. When a crime had been committed, the families of the criminal and victim would meet together and decide on an amount of ‘bote’—compensation to be paid by one to the other to make up for the damage done—without the Crown necessarily being involved.

With the conquest of England by the Normans in 1066, came the importation from the Roman system of two elements that didn’t square with Saxon tradition. First was the seizure of all land by the Crown under the feudal system—under which Barons held their estates in exchange for services to the Crown, and commoners held land from the Barons, in exchange for forty days of annual compulsory service by them. Hence the origin of the ‘fee simple’ of our modern Land Titles system.

Second was the treatment of criminal law as a matter of an offence against the Crown—‘against the King’s Peace’—as an act of rebellion against the conqueror, rather than an act requiring compensation to the victim. And there our criminal law has stayed ever since, even though, as in the O.J. Simpson case, in theory civil remedies are available for victim compensation, after punishment has first taken place. Not many criminals are worth that amount of trouble!

A third importation from Roman law came later: the mercantile law of the bankers and the traders of the Continent. In each of these cases, the elaborate mechanisms of the law of Moses, to provide all with a stake in the land, to give compensation to victims of crime, and to avoid the accumulation of debts, have been sidestepped—with the results we see in our Western world of homelessness, accumulating debts, and dissatisfied victims of crime.

It is interesting and encouraging to see that there is now a move on in the administration of the criminal law, to minimize the role of the State, and give more emphasis to compensation of the victim, rehabilitation of the offender, and victim/offender reconciliation. This involves programs of diversion of offenders out of the criminal justice system, community mediation, introduction of victim impact statements, victim/offender reconciliations programs, and so on.

Crime destroys the unity of the community. There is a definite course to be followed in restoring that unity—from retribution by Society, to restitution to the victim, to rehabilitation of the offender, to reconciliation between offender and victim: from punishment, to compensation, to reform, to forgiveness. Not all criminals travel the whole way back. Not all victims will be willing to restore relationships with the offender. It is encouraging, however, to see these beginnings being made. The need is there.

– Law Now, April 1997

The Criminal Mind

It is not really fair for our Editor, in a casual and (I am sure) space filling column, to ask a battery of questions about the Criminal Mind that even a qualified Mensan would find it hard to answer. Namely

  1. What is the criminal mind?
  2. What is a crime?
  3. Who are criminals?
  4. How should Society behave towards criminals?

All of us, of course, start our lives with a criminal mind. The essence of such a mind is two things. First, an entire devotion to the satisfaction of our own wants, without regard to the convenience of others, and Second, (sometimes very attractive and personable) closeness to other people, for the attainment of objective number one.

Watch babies at work. Watch them when they want something from their parents—every tool in the manipulative book is at work to break down the resistance of the unsuspecting parent. What confident trickster could do more? Or watch a baby mad—and tremble. Few grown-ups can equal the entire, overpowering, outpouring of a baby’s temper tantrum. Only the fact that they are so small—and so endearing—makes us ignore the sheer blatant criminality of a baby’s behaviour. If that baby weighed two hundred pounds instead of twenty, what murders would it commit! Theologians, of course, describe the characteristic as Original Sin. Parents endure it as a phase that (hopefully) passes.

As a child grows up, parents begin to ‘lay down the law’. Children have to learn that others have rights and feelings. The child may be as selfish as ever inside, but has to say ‘no’ to selfish or hurtful acts to others. Otherwise, by some form of external compulsion, the child will either be made to suffer pain, or else put in a position of inability to do harm. Young children are spanked or put in a corner or sent to their rooms. Those who do not learn from their parents may well go to Juvenile Detention Centres, and later on, to adult prisons.

Hopefully, by adolescence, the child is ready to take a further step—the internalization of the external law. Obeying the law has positive rewards. By behaving ourselves, it is possible to have friends, and belong in a group—a gang or a society. Distance remains—the loyalty to the group is matched by a suspicion or hostility to outsiders. It is the age of the ‘gang’, which may be of positive or negative social value, of patriotism—‘my country, right or wrong’—of xenophobia—‘the Russians (or Jews, or Capitalists, or Socialists, or the criminal classes) are out to get you!’ The appeal, and also the emotional age, of Ollie North. Selfishness has been replaced by a limited kind of unselfishness, but distance, and hostility, except to the immediate group, remains.

By maturity, we have travelled almost full circle. We see the world as a whole. We are supportive of others rather than selfish. We establish close relationships even with those who are different from ourselves—as your editor does, when she refuses to accept criminals and society as THEM and US. “Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner.” We are, hopefully, people who are livable with, and contributors to, rather than abstractors from, the good of society.

Unfortunately, not all have travelled the whole road, though the age distribution of those in trouble with the law—mostly 15 to 30—would indicate that much criminality is a phase of growing up. There is more to it, however, than that. The phases of our character that develop over time do not disappear as we grow older. The same person is capable of reacting to a situation as a baby, as a child, as an adolescent, or as an adult, and will act differently according to the ‘mood’ he or she is in. That angry baby is never entirely eliminated! Claude Steiner, in Scripts People Live divides even a simple character into ten different parts—the Child (divided into positive and negative, and internal and external). The Parent, divided in the same manner, and the Adult, divided into positive and negative only.

The ‘positive Adult’ is the frame of mind that solves problems rationally, and works out rational answers to them. Negatively, the Adult uses thinking in an inappropriate way, to go on ‘mind trips’ rather than reach conclusions—the frame of mind of the ‘pettifogging attorney’. The positive Parent (external) is the force that takes charge in an emergency, gives orders, organizes, and gets people to get things done. Internally, it is the force that gives discipline to one’s own life, commands the doing of unpleasant tasks, and gives one what is recognized from the outside as conscience, or ‘a backbone’. Negatively, the external Parent is a petty tyrant, a nagger, a slave driver and a nuisance. Internally, it is the force that leads to neurotic compulsions, and an internal form of slavery that can be very dangerous, because it encourages other elements of the character from time to time to break out in rebellion.

The ‘positive child’ is the most delightful part of a person’s character. Externally, it loves games and play, exploration and novelty, loves and trusts the outside world. Internally, it provides a positive, trusting, optimistic emotional base for the whole character. The negative child is another matter. Towards the outside world, it may exhibit mischief, destructiveness, hatred, aggression and a ‘chip on the shoulder’. Internally, it may show up in inferiority feelings, addiction, depression, acts of self-punishment. Abuse or neglect in infancy, of course, will develop such an attitude, from the very earliest age.

Over it all, some writers also perceive ‘the Watcher’—an aspect of character that has awareness of the state of mind being pursued and an ability to select what suits the occasion: the part of the ‘lucid dreamer’, who can interact with the characters in his dreaming and draw the event to a profitable and illuminating conclusion.

Every part of a character is needed for the functioning of the whole person. The positive is the engine—the negative is the brakes. We need the one to get us going, and the other to stop us going too far too fast. Equally, we need the different attitudes of mind—child, parent and adult—to cover life’s responsibilities in appropriate ways. It is like a ten speed bicycle—with the right gear for the right conditions, the world slips by with the maximum result for the least effort. Without the right gearing, we stall or wear ourselves out. The more primitive reactions are appropriate for matters requiring a quick response: the more sophisticated, for matters requiring thought and planning. Intelligence, after all, is essentially the progressively greater inhibition of what would otherwise be a more automatic, knee-jerk response.

In the Gospel story, we hear of a man who was obviously a local menace, living in the cemetery, noisy and unclothed, too strong to be locked up—a man who terrorized the neighbourhood. When asked his name, he said “my name is Legion, for we are many.” A psychologist today would call him, I suppose, a ‘fragmented personality’. Bits of his character were pulling every which way. This happens. In fact, it is the ‘putting it all together’ that is really the miracle. Childhood abuse, spoiling, misinformation, neglect—all can lead to a character prone to destructive behaviour. Anne Landers published a letter a while back from an admitted rapist, a college student who presumably kept his identity secret from the world. He blamed his outbreaks against the female sex on one word—“M-O-T-H-E-R”. His hatred of his mother, who had presumably abused him in some way in infancy, led to wild outbreaks of anti-social behaviour from a person who had learned to preserve a perfect ‘front’. One thinks of the Yorkshire Ripper, of a client who murdered his wife in a fit of drunken fury, of a judge who a while back quietly disappeared from his job after being caught shoplifting, of priests, Sunday School teachers and Scoutmasters who have sexual adventures with the children under their care. The inhibitions are too ineffective, and out comes the crime. One part of the personality gets the person in trouble—and the whole person is condemned to undergo punishment. It really is a cruel world, for the criminal quite as much as for the victim!

That’s the human framework within which we work. But we have yet to define what are crimes, and why we are guilty of them. Are all crimes bad? All criminals evil? That will have to await another occasion. My diskette’s getting full.

– Gemini, October 1987

The Nature of Crime

My thoughts turn this month to the nature of Crime. In this connection, a couple of articles I have run across this past month are well worth quoting.

One was a very restrained article on the subject of torture in the current issue of the ‘Candle’, magazine of Amnesty International. The last paragraph reads:

“It took thousands of years to bring private violence against defenceless individuals under control, and the control will never be total: murder, rape and robbery are still daily phenomena in every society. But they have been greatly constrained by law and public opinion. We have embarked on an attempt to constrain state violence too, and it will be a very long campaign. Rather than deplore the failure to create instant and perfect solutions, we should celebrate every small step forward. The UN convention against torture is one such step.”

The second item comes from the newsletter of the Edmonton Social Planning Council. It is an analysis of the question of ‘Why Human Organizations Fail’. Why do we get corrections systems that breed crime, schools that product stupidity, theological colleges that generate unbelief, a civil service that is neither civil nor a service, post offices that can’t move mail, etc.? Why should the ad hoc citizen’s organization of Mrs. Airth provide enough and to spare for the needs of tornado victims, while Mr. Getty, on the spot with great promises in front of the TV cameras the day after, still has not come through with his quota several months further on?

John McKnight, of Northwestern University, in a recent address to the Canadian Mental Health Association, points out that in society there are two types of social structure for getting things done. One of these is the institution:

“By institutions, we mean large structures such as corporations, universities and government mental health systems. These structures organize a large group of people so that a few of them will be able to control the rest of them. In this structure there is ultimately room for one leader. It is a structure initially created to produce goods such as steel and automobiles.”

However, as well as the institution, and often quicker, more resourceful and more efficient, is the community:

“It is obvious, upon the briefest reflection, that the typical social policy map is inaccurate because it excludes a major social domain—the community. By community, we mean the social place used by family, friends, neighbours, neighbourhood associations, clubs, civic groups, local government, and local media…

These associations of community represent unique social tools that are unlike the social tool represented by the managed institution. For example, the structure of institutions is a design established to create control of people. On the other hand, the structure of associations is the result of people acting through consent. It is critical that we distinguish between these two motive forces, because there are many goals that can only be fulfilled through consent, and these are often goals that will be impossible to achieve through a production system designed to control.”

McKnight points out that institutions are structured so that things will be done ‘right’. People of (alleged) ability therefore dominate, and there is no place for the fallible. Community structures, however, “tend to proliferate until they create a place for everyone, no matter how fallible.”

  • Associations produce many leaders—organizations only a few.
  • Associations respond quickly, yet do not imprison those receiving aid in permanent ‘systems’.
  • Associations breed creativity. Organizations require ‘channels’.
  • Associations are personal, organizations impersonal.
  • Associations provide care to persons who consent. Organizations provide ‘a service’ to persons regardless of their wishes.
  • Associations are training grounds for citizenship. Institutions, being run from above, by definition cannot act in this manner.

“There is a mistaken notion that our society has a problem in terms of effective human services. Our essential problem is weak communities. While we have reached the limits of institutional problem solving, we are only at the beginning of exploring the possibility of a new vision for community. It is a vision of re-associating the exiled. It is a vision of freeing ourselves from service and advocacy. It is a vision of centering our lives in community.”

Crime, you see, is essentially doing something that is prohibited by the biggest organization of all, Government. This may well be something morally reprehensible by the standards of the community—theft, murder, rape, slander—the sort of thing that governments were set up to prevent. It also includes things that are not in themselves morally wrong, but are needed for the safety and convenience of the community—wearing seat belts, driving on the right side of the road, shovelling snow on the sidewalk, paying taxes. It may very well involve actions that the community as a whole may well support—one thinks of Gandhi’s refusal to pay the salt tax, or the storming of the Bastille: some people would add, practicing Law without being a member of the Law Society. Crime also includes the prohibition of certain acts considered innocuous by many people—bootlegging, gambling, speeding, drugs, communicating with prostitutes, stock market fraud, for example—and does not prohibit certain acts, such as adultery and prostitution, that the community may not like at all. When we come to the UN convention against torture, we are meeting something that looks very like a crime actually committed by government. Does that mean that governments are subject to a ‘higher law’? If so, from where? Amnesty would say ‘from the moral standards of the community’—and encourage you to write letters to those abusing their positions of political power to encourage them to stop it.

Truly, a strange mixture. Crime, says my favourite Crown Prosecutor, is anything done by the people the Government doesn’t like. And government, as we have seen, can be the community’s hidden enemy.

More next month.

– Gemini, November 1987

Who Are Criminals?

After the question of ‘What is a Crime?’ the logical next step is to ask, ‘Who are criminals?’

It would be so easy and convenient at this point to seek out some class of depraved persons, whose thought processes were entirely different from our own, against whom we could project all our hostilities, and end up by hanging them or locking them all up and throwing away the key, so ridding the world of crime. It’s not that easy.

(1) Some people are obviously criminals from the very highest of motives. One thinks of Gandhi, deliberately defying the tax on salt, the thin end of a wedge that would finally destroy the foreign domination of his country. People such as Galileo who have been punished, because their dedication to truth counted for more than the threats and the power of the civil authority. They are the people who ‘march to the beat of a different drum’—in Bernard Shaw’s words, ‘the unreasonable people who change the world.’ The unemployed man who shoplifts to support his family—the ‘underground railroad’ that makes it possible for refugees to avoid immigration restrictions. Crime can in some cases have noble motives!

(2) Others defy the law because they find the law a nuisance. They place their private convenience ahead of the rules—particularly the kind of rules that a benevolent government sets up to save us all from our lower natures. All sorts of parking and traffic offences, speeding, technical things like driving without a seatbelt or without insurance. Liquor infractions, tax evasion, pornography, bootlegging, gambling, prostitution: it’s quite a long list. Nobody is particularly hurt in these ‘victimless’ crimes, so a whole class of people who think of themselves as good citizens still indulge from time to time in going on the wrong side of the law. If you’ve ever crossed a street against a red light, you belong to this class: not many people don’t.

(3) Finally, there are those whose actions actually cause unjustified harm to others—murder, theft, fraud, assault, rape, incest, extortion and other crimes of violence. These differ from the last class because they create an obvious victim. The mental element may well be the same as the previous set—a self-centered disregard for the social consequences of an act. It may be feeble-mindedness, drunkenness or mental unbalance. A little time in a typical Provincial Court certainly does not give one a high opinion of the I.Q. of the average person in trouble with the law. Often enough, it is the result of ‘uncontrollable impulses’, particularly in the case of assaults, shoplifting and repeat sexual offenders. I suspect that abuse in childhood, especially in the years before a child learns to speak, creates problems of personality in this direction that are immensely difficult to eradicate. It may be showing off, or looking for the thrill of playing ‘cops and robbers’. It could be bloody mindedness, and general hostility against the human race. It may be the result of depression and self-hate, leading to a desire to be caught and punished. We are not by any means dealing with a uniform class and motivation.

Disregarding classes (1) and (2) for the moment, where the motive for the criminal action is often highly rational, there is a common element in the criminal behaviour of class (3), and that is a lack of rational and socially purposeful behaviour.

In his book The Unconscious God, Viktor Frankl takes issue with Freud on the subject of human motivation. Rather than following Freud in regarding this as essentially the result of sexual or other impulses, Frankl introduces the concept of human behaviour motivated by a perception by the individual that he has a place to fit in to the ongoing development of the world. Mozart and Beethoven, for example, have a genius for musical composition, and this drives them to deliver their offerings to the world whether or not they are starving for not having chosen a more lucrative career. Madame Curie pursues the discovery of radium, poets starve in garrets, Gandhi goes to prison, Frankl himself survives in a concentration camp, all because in the end they have a sense of a vocation—a gift or a potential that they have to fulfil in the world, a meaning that they must express through the way they live their lives. By contrast, the psychological tests run on the criminal population give a high degree of aimlessness. ‘Criminality and purpose in life are inversely related’—and this goes for depression and addictions also.

Let’s leave it to next time to think about what should be done with criminals in the light of the above.

– Gemini, December 1987

From Saul to Paul

I feel a sermon coming on, but I don’t think I have the courage to deliver it from the pulpit. It has to do with the criminal background and psychology of that greatest of Christian pioneers, St. Paul.

It all started when I read an article by Peter Worthington in “Saturday Night”, outlining interviews he had had in Kingston penitentiary with mass murderer Clifford Olson, and another, earlier, profile of Victoria’s Darren Hunenmann, murderer of his mother and grandmother.

Olson appeared much as I expected him: a nauseatingly self-satisfied criminal, provided by a grateful government with the services of the prison staff as the reward for his series of horrible crimes. Somehow, even the loneliness of his solitary confinement had been mitigated by a cellular phone that he had smuggled into his cell, tolls charged to the prison number.

Olson talked quite dispassionately about the feature of his character that has attracted most public interest—the horrible murders he had committed. One casual remark, however, caught my eye. It appears that around the age of four, he had been sexually molested by an uncle. Far from appearing angry or resentful at this instance of child abuse, Olson seemed to make light of it all as a triviality—“these things happen in households all the time.”

Hunenmann was the tightly controlled son of a well off mother, whose funds came from a grandmother who had, by business ability, economy, and hard work, built herself into a millionaire from severe poverty. Knowing that he was the beneficiary of the family fortunes when these two persons died, he arranged for schoolfriends to kill them with a crowbar while he was at a safe distance, alibi provided by his girlfriend.

It’s easy enough to follow up the psychology. The adult, in the child’s eye, is bigger and stronger and understands right from wrong. The child’s inner sense of what he likes and dislikes is suppressed, and replaced by a new ‘law’ based on adult behaviour. The child’s personality is split into two parts: one part is the child who has been forced to disown his natural feelings, which yet, when he is away from adult control, spill out in re-enactment of the original trauma—either suicidally against himself, or homicidally against others. The other is the correct, agreeable, manipulative and civilized ‘front’ that the psychopath has learned to assume, which he may well think to be his true character, as a macho ‘man of the world’. As former prison doctor Guy Richmond says: “It seems as if the psychopath has chopped himself into sections, which are then glued together, but insulated one from the other …”

How then does St. Paul, a.k.a. Saul the murderer, fit in? The fragments of his life as we gather them from his letters and the book of Acts gives an interesting picture. The privileged political status of Roman citizenship. Upper middle class background. An extremely strict religious upbringing, including circumcision, right from the cradle. University theological education from the most qualified professors. Excellent academic record. Racially, a genuine Jew, immersed in Jewish culture while living in the territory of the despised Goyim. As good as a conformist to what he had been taught was politically correct as was Adolf Eichmann. Well furnished with suppressed and probably unconscious rage at what he had been compelled to put up with as a child, as so many mass murderers are, he systematically went into the execution business.

Perhaps we ignore too much the degree to which religious zeal is associated with murder. Sometimes, as in the case of the ‘Satanic Verses’ persecution, Hitler’s Holocaust, or the Inquisition, it is sanctioned by the State in collusion with religious authorities. At other times, for instance, as when Jack the Ripper hunted down prostitutes, or Muslim fundamentalists and German terrorists or animal rights activists use explosives and kidnapping to destroy evil and bring in their version of the New Jerusalem, it is carried out contrary to the will of the governing authorities. Either way, there’s a lot of blood on the floor. It’s not hard to imagine how the strictly conformist Saul, scandalized by the attacks made by an uneducated carpenter from Nazareth on all he held sacred—the temple, the law, the priesthood—(but also, like many mass murderers, anxious to make headlines and curry favour with his superiors) launched into such a violent crusade to extirpate Jesus’s blaspheming followers.

Fortunately, the process halted and reversed itself when a blinding light struck him on the Damascus road. Internal or external? Who knows? But certainly, hearing voices and seeing visions are commonplace in the world of the psychologically disturbed. What did emerge from all of this was a man now as willing to suffer and forgive as he formerly was to persecute, and some of the most penetrating insights into the psychology of successful living and the theology of the Christian message that the world has ever seen.

Apart from an immense sense of gratitude to a God who was prepared to forgive him and let him start again, the most remarkable aspect of Paul’s message—and prescription for success—was his condemnation of the Law. Telling people “Thou shalt not” is effectively a recipe giving people a post-hypnotic suggestion to do the very thing that is forbidden. That’s why ‘New year’s resolutions’ practically never succeed. That’s why the super-religious, ever so perfect guys who put themselves on a pedestal so often explode into orgies of hidden misbehaviour. That’s why Paul himself says “I do not understand my own actions… I do the very thing I hate.” Instead, says Paul, “Walk in the spirit”. Go back to being a child. If the Law, the priests and the politicians were together stupid enough to put Jesus Christ to death, then something is wrong with the Law, the priests and the politicians, not with Jesus Christ. Go with the spirit of loving God, yourself and your neighbour, and forget about the whole raft of petty rituals.

As I look around the church scene today, with laws, rules and self-righteousness and condemnation of non-conformists springing out both from the Left and from the Right, I begin to wonder if anyone there has really ‘got the message’. The simple message that trying or pretending to be perfect gets you nowhere—and using violence to try and make others perfect, your own children included, is a major ingredient in the senseless criminality and violence of the present day social and economic scene.

Of course, this isn’t a popular message with those whose living depends on persuading unsophisticated people that they are all at sea, to induce them to pay the freight on their particular political or denominational road to heaven. But there really is this ‘more excellent way’—and I think this is what the whole Gospel message was about in the first place.

One day perhaps even Olson will understand….

– Gemini, September 1993

On Killing

What, Death again?

Well, after all, it’s the Halloween season.

This time it’s a book that’s crossed my path, by a professor of ‘Killology’. Title: On Killing.

Frankly, a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t even know what ‘Killology’ was. I’m still not sure that it’s a valid part of the English language. However, David Grossman, retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, is a professor of this subject at Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, U.S.A.

‘Killology’ is the study of the psychology of killing, a matter of obvious interest to those responsible for the armed forces. A little known fact, of much concern to generals, is that without special training, the typical soldier, who may well be willing to sacrifice his life for his country in battle, is generally revolted by the idea of killing a fellow human being. In the heat of battle, only perhaps 15% of the infantry will actually fire their weapons, and many of those shots will be deliberately aimed to miss. As Grossman points out, having soldiers who perform the act of killing so very poorly is like having a literacy rate of 15% among librarians.

Studies of combat in World War II began to reveal this terrible truth, and the Army started developing psychological techniques to deal with this. One technique was to make the act of aiming to kill so instinctive that the shot is fired as an automatic reaction to stimulus. So instead of lying prone and shooting at a ‘bull’s eye’ target, soldiers learned to fire standing in full battle gear in foxholes, shooting at man-shaped targets which popped up in front of them, and fell down when hit, with rewards for the fastest and most successful marksman.

Another technique is to make the act of killing more remote and mechanical. Killing one’s adversary with knife or bayonet, and watching him in his death throes, is a highly traumatic matter. Shooting through a telescopic lens or night vision goggles is much easier. Killing with artillery, or by dropping bombs from a height, is so remote from the target that one can forget that real human beings are being blasted, burned and dismembered as a result of our actions. Result—much more killing with much less psychological stress and reluctance.

A third technique is to create psychological distance—to dehumanize the enemy in our thinking, treating him as a non-person, as Germans treated Jews as non-persons in the Second World War. Alternatively, to paint a picture of the enemy as a pariah and a fiend, to create a sense of moral justification for the lethal force we use against him.

A fourth, is the setting up of a ‘macho’ role model for the impressionable young soldier to follow—the tough and brutal drill sergeant, who breaks down the soldier’s civilized scruples, replacing them with a James Bond ideal of a superman, above the usual rules of morality, ‘licensed to kill’ those whom we have identified as ‘bad guys’, without remorse or compunction.

By the time the Vietnam War was in progress, such techniques had raised the firepower of the infantry up to 95% of potential—most everyone was pulling the trigger when ordered. So we had massacres of men, women and children by the hundred, often completely contrary to the Geneva Convention, as happened at My Lai. Worse than that, though—once the war had ended, the number of veterans of the Vietnam war hounded by psychological problems and post-traumatic stress disorder, resulting in crime, depression, violence, broken marriages and suicide, rose to unheard of heights. It’s likely a much bigger factor in the incredible crime and imprisonment rate in the States than people are willing to admit.

What is more alarming, though, is that any person who watches TV, or plays a violent computer game, is subject to the same kind of conditioning. The ‘macho’ image is everywhere. The remoteness of the computer screen makes emotional detachment from human suffering not only possible, but routine. Moreover, killing, when our reluctance to hurt others is overcome, does produce an emotional ‘high’—followed, for most people by depression and guilt—that easily translates into an addictive urge for more of the same. So develops the market for pornographic and ‘snuff’ films, and fantasies of violence and domination against the weak, that can easily translate into real life actions. Instead of preaching compassion, reason and responsibility, people of all ages, and the young in particular, are tube-fed a steady diet of what Walter Wink calls the “myth of redemptive violence”—that concept that, by using force to stamp out evil, the world can be made a non-violent paradise. The theory that Stalin followed, to create the ‘New Soviet Man’ by purges and labour camps. The theory that armies follow, to transform caring and sensitive individuals into killing machines.

This is not idle fancy. Study after study has shown that the introduction of television to a community, with the violence and anti-social behaviours it promotes in its role models, is immediately followed by dramatic rises in the rates of murder and violent crime.

Living in Jonesboro, Grossman was ideally placed to give expert commentary on the school massacres that took place there, and was interviewed many times for TV to account for the strange psychology that would lead a child to run wild in gunning down his schoolmates. What he said was never broadcast—because it brought into question the whole damaging effect of television, and TV programming, on children’s and society’s behaviour.

It’s not only the tobacco industry that has dirty secrets that it doesn’t want the public to know. But the media are better placed than most to keep their secrets to themselves.

– Gemini, November 1999

Visiting the Jail

The Edmonton Institution is that rather modern, dark brick group of buildings surrounded by yellow lights and barbed wire situated on the Manning freeway on the north side of the road out to Fort Saskatchewan. It is easy enough to pass it by on the highway without noticing it at all—on the other hand, for some people, it is their involuntary home for twenty five years of their lives.

It was something over three years ago that I first had an opportunity to go inside, as part of the Prison Fellowship group that visits for a couple of hours the first and third Saturday nights of the month. To be allowed in at all, with the idea of being allowed out the same evening, involves a fair amount of form filling and screening: once on the ‘approved’ list, there is still the matter of providing identification, signing in, depositing all personal belongings in a locker, passing through a metal detector and no less than four remotely controlled doors, before ending up in the prison chapel.

When all this has been gone through, it is almost a letdown to meet the very normal looking human beings that compose the inmate population. The inmates who attend the chapel services are not monsters—for one reason or another, they tend to be life’s losers, often with a history of alcohol and drug abuse. They behave much as any group of men might be expected to behave, condemned to live in quarters not of their own choosing, with neighbours composed of the worse criminal elements of the population, very limited chances for contact with the opposite sex, even of one’s own family, and a land­lord whose best intentions are plagued by multitudes of rules and bureaucracy, and public attitudes that generally would like them to be locked up for ever, and throw away the key.

The services—and they are only one of many from different groups that visit—are simple enough. Typically, a dozen visitors and perhaps a few more inmates (out of a total jail population of around 200). Gather round for coffee and chat: settle down for half an hour of vigorous gospel singing, hymns chosen from the floor, and a certain predilection for numbers with a theme of escape—“I’ll fly away” springs to mind. Then a presentation—a talk, a testimony, frequently a visiting musical group, sometimes a TV video. Half an hour more to circulate, mix, talk and have coffee. Gather round in a circle for a final ten minutes of prayer holding hands together. A lot of hugging and goodbyes, and time to go home. Visitors, with a feeling of relief, to the outside air. Remainder—off to the cell area.

“I was in prison, and you visited me.” I doubt if many inmates recognize Christ living in them, yet repeatedly, I leave that chapel knowing that I have been with Jesus, and Jesus was in the people that I had met. Is it perhaps that in the pain, danger and shame of prison life, just as in the pressure of poverty, or the stress of sickness, our condition brings us much closer in spirit to the ‘man of sorrows’, than when we comfortably roll over in bed on a Sunday morning, and wonder whether we can make it to church or not?

-Anglican Messenger, October 1991

The Martyr as Criminal / The Criminal as Martyr

I would like to thank the Mennonite Church in Edmonton for bringing this Exhibition to our city. The subject of martyrdom is an uncomfortable one—martyr’s deaths, for reasons I will talk about later, tend to be messy and uncomfortable ones, and perhaps we prefer not to think about them. I also appreciate the date for which this invitation has been given. For me, as an Anglican, this is a significant date on which to be speaking: August 3rd nowadays is the date on which we celebrate the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen.

It is also the anniversary of the tragic death of my daughter, Catherine Greeve, on August 3rd, 1988.

So I speak to you as a victim. We live in a world that is becoming very sensitive to the hurts and the rights of victims: victims of crime, victims of harassment, victims of persecution, of war, and so on. A lot of us claim to be victims of one sort or another—and ask for compensation for our status. But although a martyr is indeed a victim, a victim is not the same as a martyr. Let’s look at some of the differences.

Victims certainly are people who suffer. A martyr, however, is someone who has chosen to suffer—or at the very least, has chosen actions that make suffering extremely probable. He, or she, has chosen to ‘march to the beat of a different drum.’ Martyrs, rightly or wrongly, have chosen to follow an authority which they consider to be higher than that which seeks to impose its will on them, and pay whatever penalty comes as the result of that choice. It is the martyr who says “Some things are worth dying for.”

Secondly, and almost universally, the martyr has been given an opportunity to recant. In the Old Testament, whether it is Joseph resisting the blandishments of Potiphar’s wife, or Daniel refusing to bow down to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, or Eleazar refusing to soil his mouth with pork, there was an easy way out, that the persecuting authority would have been quite happy to allow, and which the martyr refused—refused because it would mean submitting to the authority’s way of doing things.

Thirdly, martyrdom is something imposed by authority. Generally, but not always, that authority is the State. The martyr’s attitude is regarded as treason—as undermining the authority of the Emperor. The final argument of the Jews to persuade Pilate to crucify Jesus was “If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.” So in the time of the Emperor Trajan, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, was ready to put Christians to death if they would not burn incense to the Emperor, and abjure Christ, not as a matter of religious persecution, but on grounds of disloyalty to the Civil power. And not only in this century, but in many centuries in many lands, thousands have been the martyrs who have given their lives rather than accept the belief structure that the State sought to impose on them, particularly when some form of religion was ‘established’. Catholics, Protestants, Puritans, Aboriginals, Jews and Muslims alike—all, because of their religion, have from time to time suffered martyrdom as disobedient to the State. And from the time of Joshua to the days of our residential schools for aboriginals, in many countries and circumstances, the ‘moral majority’ have been guilty of imposing persecution, if not martyrdom, on others who have refused to accept their beliefs.

Fourthly, a martyr’s death is cruel and ferocious. Ordinary criminals may be hanged—those guilty of Treason are hanged, drawn and quartered. Heretics are burned to death at the stake. Racks and thumbscrews are used to persuade the heretic to change his or her beliefs. Daniel’s furnace is heated “seven times hotter” than usual. The persecution of the Jews throughout history, whether by Antiochus Epiphanes or Adolf Hitler, has been of quite exceptional cruelty. The farmer who deliberately defies the monopoly of the Canadian Wheat Board is treated with unusual severity. The list goes on.

What is it, then, about the martyr’s behaviour that arouses this degree of cruelty and hate? I suggest that the answer lies on one single word—fear.

The more comfortable any of us are in this world—whether in power, prestige, or money and the creature comforts it brings—the more we have to lose, and therefore the greater our hostility to any person who would threaten our position. Yet this comfort can only come to us from some established order of society: worship, or at least respect, for the Emperor, respect for one’s position in the religious or social hierarchy, respect for a person’s knowledge and wisdom, respect for our person and our wealth.

Those who are comfortable also have a singular way of taking something more than their fair share of the nation’s wealth and power by perpetuating various myths about the world—how it works and how it has to be run. So the Emperors of this world develop their power by exaggerating the hostile intent of neighbouring nations, seeing ‘spies under every bed’, and using this myth to develop huge armies, deny political freedoms, aggrandizing their political and economic power through an arms race. The priests of this world, certainly in times when the Church has political power, talk about Hell fire and Purgatory, and create a fear of the hereafter to maintain their importance and their incomes in the here and now. The Bankers of this world make a great mystery out of the process of creating money so as to justify the enormous rewards they receive out of the processing of Debt. The police, media, and justice system have a vested interest in making the problem of crime appear as desperate as it can be. Bureaucracies have the strangest way of insisting that only they can solve the social and administrative problems of society. The learned of this world—lawyers, doctors and academics in particular—make mysteries out of matters that are inherently simple, so as to create a market in which they can earn the rewards that come from a monopoly of a knowledge that only they can dispense. And so on.

All these people are well off and respected as long as their myths are preserved. But what happens when some child points out that “The Emperor has no clothes!”? Poverty, disgrace and disobedience stare them in the face. And it is the fear of this poverty, disgrace and loss of control that leads to the furious backlash against all who challenge the myths that provide the comfort and security of ‘the establishment’—ending, if they can achieve it while still preserving their ‘good guy’ image, in the martyrdom of the whistleblower. For an illustration, look no further than the sad history surrounding the story of Canada’s Somalia Inquiry: the difficulty of the investigation, the efforts of the administration to protect its position and its reputation and destroy that of its critics, all adding up to a monstrous attempt to preserve credibility and territory—at the expense of the whistleblowers and the victims.

One way to maintain the status quo is to make the offending conduct a Crime. Crime, after all, is something we have been taught to hate, fear and detest. Crime, ostensibly, is the State’s way of punishing the moral sins set out in the Ten Commandments. There is therefore something semi-sacred in causing evil to those who have broken the Law. And Judges and Lawyers, just like Doctors, Royalty and academics, have a funny way of dressing up in robes like Priests in order to emphasize the unquestionable mystery of all that they are doing in this direction.

But let’s look at Crime—honestly. If we think it is connected with the Ten Commandments, there’s a surprise coming. “Thou shalt have no other Gods”? A religion decreed by the State is passé—though a sop is given to churches in certain tax advantages to clergy, church properties, and charitable donors. “Graven Images”? Idolatry is not currently a crime. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain”? Nor is Blasphemy. “Keep holy the Sabbath”? Sabbath observance has gone by the board in Canadian law. “Honour thy Father and thy Mother”. Providing for parents has been replaced by Old Age Pensions, the Canada Pension Plan, and the Welfare State. Prohibition of Murder remains—indeed, has been vastly extended by many, many offences involving injury, or even the threat of causing injury or discomfort to others. Theft likewise, with another vast array of laws that affect and protect rights of property in a thousand different ways. Adultery, however, and some other forms of sexual misbehaviour are not crimes. Perjury is rarely punished, and Defamation is almost universally dealt with as a Civil, not a Criminal matter. Coveting is not only not criminalized—it forms the basis of an entire advertising industry, let alone that of gambling and lotteries.

The myth then, is that the Law is based on morality, and exists to protect the poor and downtrodden. The fact, however, is that the Law is more often used to keep the poor and the downtrodden from challenging the comfort of the rich. “The Law, in its infinite wisdom, prohibits rich and poor alike from sleeping under bridges.” The fight throughout history, to bring the creation of Law out of the hands of a privileged elite and to make it genuinely responsible to the will of the people, has been a long and often a bloody one, and it is by no means over—indeed, in Alberta, I wonder if in some ways at the present time we are going backwards. When we look at the strange processes of politics, the strange privileges given by Government to strange people and groups of people, the enormous amount of the national wealth that is taken by Law from those who have earned it, to be spent on the processes of Government and in buying popular support for it, or how reasoned enquiries on public policy such as those on Aboriginal Rights, Armed Forces administration, Poverty and the like are so regularly shelved and forgotten—one can sympathize a little with Timothy McVeigh or the I.R.A. for trying to rattle the established order with explosives, even as we recognize that their way of righting the world’s wrongs is only making matters worse.

The Criminal, then, is a person who has chosen, because of his allegiance to an authority other than that of the Establishment, to defy the Establishment’s dictates. A Martyr is that type of criminal who has conducted this defiance for reasons that he—or we—would consider noble and justified, either because of the worthiness of his or her cause, or the venality of the Establishment, or both. And the distinction between Martyr and Criminal is one that is not easy to make, and one where we are likely to meet the most vehement differences of opinion. To George III, I am sure, George Washington was a treasonous upstart. To a true American, however, he was the hero who brought liberty and democracy to his people. One distinction that can be made, though, is that the Martyr receives the punishment for his beliefs, not for conduct that injures his neighbours. Crime is alleged to involve such conduct—though when Gandhi is sentenced to six years in prison for refusing to pay the salt tax, the difference between Crime and Martyrdom becomes a very narrow one indeed! What about our Grim Reapers? Or all the current hullabaloo concerning Marilyn Manson?

How, then, do we treat our Martyrs and our Criminals? There are four main processes that society undertakes to deal with them. One is Retaliation. Another is Restitution. Another is Reformation. A final one can be Reconciliation.

Retaliation, or Retribution, is simply the use of force to cause pain to the offender—generally with the idea that, if enough pain is inflicted, the offender will not think his course of conduct worthwhile to repeat it in the future. This is the idea of the use of corporal punishment in the bringing up of children. When the death penalty is inflicted, it is supposed not only to prevent a criminal from repeating the crime, but also deter others who might commit it from going ahead. This presumes, of course, the middle class assumption that life is worth the living. For those on skid row, at the bottom of the social scale, where drink and drugs can be all that can make life tolerable, this may well not be the case. In such cases, the deterrence factor means very little. In fact, in the case of Martyrs, history has repeatedly shown that the punishment approach has had a reverse effect. Far from exterminating the behaviour or the belief, the ‘blood of the martyr’ becomes the ‘seed of the church’—something illustrated even today, for instance, by the strength of the Christian church in Communist or ex-Communist countries in spite of many years of persecution.

A second approach is that of the Civil Law—ordering Restitution—to compensate the victim rather than to establish the authority of the State. Those who cheat on their taxes, for instance, or defraud their employers, are forced to pay compensation to make good the damage they have caused. The ecological martyrs who render timber dangerous to harvest by driving spikes into trees, or hold up the Alaska ferry system, may be ordered to pay damages to those whose property they have injured. Those who try and slow down the progress of Business by unsuccessful litigation will be faced with counterclaims and costs. No matter how pure their motives, those who interfere with the lawful operation of an abortion clinic by obstruction and protests may well have to pay for the damage and disruption that they cause. And so on.

A third approach by society to the Criminal and/or Martyr is that of Reformation. Chinese governments in particular are fond of it—using force to persuade dissenters of the error of their ways. With us, the mildest form of this treatment is Probation, or Conditional Discharge. If the offence is serious enough to justify ‘Federal time’, the imprisoned offender will find himself subject to a barrage of psychological testing, training courses of all kinds, Correction Plans, evaluations and finally Parole, as long as he will toe the line in accordance with the dictates of the Authorities. It’s the “Clockwork Orange” approach. Those who refuse to cooperate and reject all of this, are imprisoned longer, and may even be kept indefinitely as ‘dangerous offenders’, because they refuse to have their minds tampered with. Particularly this is the case with those who maintain (occasionally correctly) that they have been wrongly convicted. The typical martyr, of course, will be the very last person to cooperate with any form of Reformation at the hands of the authorities. In their eyes, he is an ‘incorrigible offender’.

Finally, there is the prospect of Reconciliation—something that goes on in families all the time, but is quite alien to the official justice system. It involves the actual meeting of Victim and Offender, the understanding by each of the situation of the other, and the acceptance by each of some mode of understanding that will enable each to live peacefully in the same world as the other from this point on. The past is treated as the past. A most marvelous example of this in recent days is the amnesty given by the Truth and Justice Committee in South Africa—to at once recognize the immorality of the ‘dirty tricks’ used to preserve white supremacy, while making it possible for the two nations in the future to live side by side without civil war.

The State cannot force reconciliation on either victim or offender—the best it might do is to make mediation facilities available, so that the position of understanding can be arrived at. And in doing this, the State is forced to acknowledge its own powerlessness: reconciliation has to be the voluntary act of the two parties involved.

What we are left with is this—the tendency of the Establishment to want to preserve its privileges, and the need of the Martyr to point out where those privileges are undeserved, and to lay his life on the line for the sake of his understanding of Truth and Justice. It is when the public at large senses that the sufferings of the martyrs are out of all proportion to the evils they have done to their fellow men, that the Establishment is ultimately dislodged, and a new policy of tolerance to the Martyr’s creed is adopted. So the Roman historian Tacitus recorded how the people of Rome were revolted by the sufferings of the Christian martyrs in the time of Nero—and in the end, Christianity moved from being a persecuted religion to being the official religion of the Roman Empire after the time of the Emperor Constantine. The martyr’s suffering is an essential element in this change of attitude.

Society also should be glad of its martyrs, because it is only through them that the fossilization of institutions can be prevented, and individual freedom of choice be allowed to replace the dead hand of tradition. It is a continual process, essential to the development of a free and responsible society. But it cannot be achieved without dedication and pain.

How, then, as a civilized society, do we deal with those who disagree with our prevailing culture? Complete tolerance means complete anarchy—every person doing whatever seems best to himself, regardless of its effect on others. The four methods I have described above can be easily categorized into two classes.

With retribution and reformation, we have the response of a closed mind. Retribution says “You will do it my way, or else you will suffer.” Reformation, in a slightly more gentle way, says “I will show you how to do it my way, so that you can do it my way, or else …” But in neither case is there any input from the accused to explain his needs, his beliefs, or his conduct.

With restitution and reconciliation, however, there is at least some input so that each side can start to explain itself to the other. With restitution, the damage is evaluated, and a degree of compensation ordered to be paid. With reconciliation, the human cost of the disagreement is approached. Both give a chance for mutual understanding, and finding a way towards a settlement of differences.

These two attitudes come strongly to the fore in the political debate at this time taking place on society’s attitude to crime. On the one hand there is the Reform Party position, shared by our current Provincial administration, of harshness and deterrence. On the same side, there is the program of intensive re-education in a more relaxed atmosphere symbolized by Corrections Canada—particularly in the debacle attending the recent opening of the Edmonton Women’s Prison. One aspect of both of these approaches is the lack of input from either accused or victim—something that in particular leaves victims extremely angry and unsatisfied.

On the other hand, there is the move currently on to cut back on bureaucracy and its intrusive inspections and legalistic approach: to leave enforcement of standards as a civil matter, and to divert less serious offences into community mediation programs. Not martyrdom, but understanding and solutions.

So we are left with the question. Will we listen to our martyrs, some of whom we choose to call criminals, or ignore their message and blindly continue to punish? Many of them, for sure, may be misguided, and we cannot change the culture of a nation to suit everyone’s whim—but on the other hand, the culture that never changes becomes in the end oppressive, out of touch, and unable to deal with the needs of the times.

A culture need to listen to its martyrs—and its criminals. Let’s remember the words of Oliver Cromwell to the Scottish Covenanters, whose zeal for righteousness needed to be brought under control: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, have the humility to consider that you may be mistaken.”

It is a plea for such humility, on the part of those who are drunk on the elixir of power, that is the message of the martyr—and the criminal also.

– Notes for a lecture delivered in August 1999