Banished beyond Verona’s walls

"Send me back to jail, but don't force me to stay away from Kamloops!"

Romeo: What news? What is the Prince’s doom?

Friar: A gentler judgement vanished from his lips — Not body’s death, but banishment.

Romeo: Banishment? Be merciful, say ‘death’; For exile hath more terror in his look, much more than death.

Friar: Hence from Verona art thou banishéd. Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.

Romeo: There is no world without Verona walls, but purgatory, torture, hell itself. Hence banishéd is banished from the world, and world’s exile is death.

(After some more of this, Romeo adds): Thou cut’st my head off with a golden axe!

(From “Romeo and Juliet”)*

Who knew, that the ancient punishments would be so effective? Everything old is new again.

“Exile” is such an old world word, that we don’t really use anymore. We don’t know what it means, “exile” (forced expulsion from one’s home), in our age of mobility. But, as it turns out, exile can still pack a lot of emotional punch — and not the good kind of emotional punch — as poor Romeo discovered 400 and some years ago. Not to mention Napoleon, the last Shah of Iran, the Roman poet Ovid …

No one is happy in exile, not even in “self-imposed exile.” (Leaving the farm or the old hometown as soon as you’re old enough and heading straight for the big city doesn’t count as self-imposed exile, no matter how unhappy you may find yourself there. You can always go back home, no matter how unhappy that may make you.)

In a recent case, a young man was banished from the fair city of Kamloops for two years on top of his four-month prison sentence (criminal harassment of his girlfriend’s family, uttering threats, assault — see story, Page B2). His lawyer subsequently argued that the banishment was unconstitutional. But another judge upheld the banishment, and so beyond Kamloops’ walls was he exiled, into the world with all its terrors, far from the familiar customs, language, traditions and feast days of fair Kamloops.

One could hear him shriek at the judge: “Send me back to jail, but banishéd is banished from the world, and world’s exile is death.”

You could almost hear him shriek at his lawyer: “Thou cut’st my head off with a golden axe!”

There was another recent case — a young man banished from the city of Nelson. The court subsequently overturned that sentence, after his plaintive cries of dismay could be heard as far as Trail. Turns out the world was too broad and wide for that young man. Now that’s deterence!

This is an exciting new development in crime and punishment. Similarly, as 400 years ago troublemakers were placed in the stocks, now our more humane modern jurists order them to wear signs and walk around (“I Am A Serial Restaurant Diner-And-Dasher”). As an added humane plus, the heaving of rotten fruit at these culprits by the village idiots is also now punishable by law.

Our judicial system may have its flaws, but it is ever evolving and improving. We take what worked in the past and reject what didn’t.

For instance, individual exile, as noted above, seems to really strike a chord. But we must be wary of taking the whole process too far, to the other, darker side of the coin, like the Brits did.

The British were champion banishers. They had it down to a system — Transportation. The people they didn’t like were at first dumped in America, until all those indentured servants and Highland Scots formed their own country. Mother England could then transport you to Australia for the rest of your unhappy life, for the crime of stealing a pocket handerchief. And they did so en masse, until the Australians forged their own national identity. I bet the English wish they had some of those transportees back.

If Canada were to adopt transportation as a punishment, the only really available destination would be the Arctic — which come to think of it, might be an idea worth exploring. See more, next week.

* Shakespeare, by the way, quoted above, wrote Romeo and Juliet at a very turbulent time for the English. Roman Catholicism was outlawed in England under Elizabeth I. To practice Catholicism was not only illegal, but to not actively profess Protestantism could lead to heavy fines or imprisonment. To be a Catholic priest, especially a Jesuit, was punishable by death, after a lot of hideous torture. There was a lot of exile in Shakespeare’s day. And his family, it is believed, were secret Catholic sympathizers. The playwright could write about banishment with an especial poignancy.

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