Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Columnists Duel Over Honour Killings in The National Post

Today's National Post has an interesting debate between Tasha Kheiriddin and Marni Soupcoff over whether so-called "honour killings" should be the subject of special attention in the Canadian Criminal Code. Exactly what constitutes an "honour killing" is difficult to define, but the controversy seems to stem from cases where men kill their daughters or wives over perceived shame and insults to respect and decency, which may include dating men of another religion or dressing in Western-style clothing.

Kheiridden argues that honour-motivated murder should be added as an aggravating factor during sentencing, along with current aggravators such as domestic violence, gang activity, and terrorism. She argues that "knowing that a sentence for honour killing would carry a harsher penalty would send a clear message to potential perpetrators that these crimes will not be tolerated".

Soupcoff, on the other hand, comes out against any special provision in the Criminal Code for honour killings. She argues that current prohibitions on murder are sufficient, and that there would be no additional deterrent effect for adding aggravating factors: "If a man who is about to murder a daughter for disrespecting her family is not dissuaded by the general prohibition on homicide, will he suddenly change his mind if he learns of a legislative revision to the aggravating-factors sentencing portion of Criminal Code section 718?"

I'm on Soupcoff's side here, as I think aggravating factors (and most other tinkering with the Criminal Code) have no additional deterrent effect. The vast majority of non-lawyers don't even really know what aggravating factors are, or specifically which ones are and are not included in the Criminal Code. They just know that murder is bad, and pre-meditated murder is worse. The empirical research I've seen seems to make it clear that fine gradations in the criminal law have no additional deterrent effect.

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