Last Hanging in British Columbia

Posted by Daniel on Oct 21, 2009

Reading an article in today's paper about executions in Texas, my mind fell to wondering: When was the last execution in BC?

Turns out the answer is fifty years ago, on April 28, 1959, at Oakalla Prison Farm in Burnaby. The hangee was Leo Mantha, a 31-year-old former sailor, who was convicted of murdering his boyfriend, Aaron Jenkins, at the Esquimalt naval base the previous September. The case scandalized a homophobic public and touched off a witch hunt aimed at rooting out homosexuals from the Canadian armed forces.

Mantha was the 44th person executed at Oakalla between its opening in 1912 and 1959. Hangings originally took place in the prison courtyard, then moved inside to an abandoned elevator shaft.

Journalist Jean Howarth described the execution in that day's Province newspaper. Her editor had not wanted her to attend, nor had the prison warden. It was no place for a lady in 1959. But Howarth, who went on to a distinguished career with the Toronto Globe and Mail, persisted. She opposed capital punishment and she did not believe it should go on behind closed doors. Perhaps her reporting was one of the reasons no more executions took place here.

Capital punishment in Canada was finally stopped by Parliament in 1976, though there had been a moratorium on executions since 1967 . The last two people to be executed were Arthur Lucas and Robert Turpin, convicted of separate murders and hanged in Toronto in 1962.

According to the Department of Justice website, a total of 710 people were executed in Canada, 697 men and 13 women.