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Appeals Panel Sympathizes With Latimer's "Unique" Situation; Grants Day Parole
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
February 27, 2008

METCHOSIN, BRITISH COLUMBIA--The Appeals Division of Canada's National Parole Board on Wednesday granted day parole to Robert Latimer, as long as he does not "have any responsibility for, or make decisions for, any individuals who are severely disabled."

Disability rights groups responded with resolve to continue to advocate for -- and educate the public about -- the value and rights of people that have the most severe disabilities.

The appeals division overturned a December 5, 2007 decision by a regional parole board, which had denied Latimer's request for day parole because he has shown no remorse and continues to say that he was right to murder his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy.

Latimer admitted that he killed Tracy in October 1993 by pumping pick-up exhaust into the cab where he had placed her. He has insisted that he did it to "end her suffering" from cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities and physical pain.

Latimer was convicted of murder after the court heard testimony that at the time of her death Tracy was scheduled for hip surgery that was supposed to reduce pain and discomfort. In January 2001, the Canadian Supreme Court, upon ruling unanimously that Latimer must serve at least 10 years of a life sentence, noted that Tracy could have been given medication to relieve her pain, and that she appeared to enjoy people and life.

But public sympathy has been on Latimer's side: Many groups, including civil liberties groups, have argued that Latimer should not have been forced to serve time for the "mercy killing".

The parole board's appeals division seemed to agree with that point of view. In an 8-page ruling, it said the regional parole board was wrong to say that Latimer did not understand the underlying reasons why he decided to kill his daughter.

"The appeal division finds that the board's determinations in this regard are unreasonable and unsupported. Your responses at the hearing reveal that you did, in fact, demonstrate insight and were able to explain why you decided to end the life of your daughter 13 years after caring for her."

It also said Latimer did not pose a danger to the community because of the "unique" circumstances surrounding his crime.

"Furthermore, the board's determination to the effect that caring for a severely disabled family member is a 'normal occurrence,' is unreasonable. File information and clinical opinion indicate that the circumstances of your offence were indeed unique and that it was unlikely that you would find yourself in a similar high-risk situation."

Day parole means Latimer, 54, will still live in a prison or halfway house, but will be allowed to leave the facility during the day. He soon will transfer from William Head Institution, the minimum-security prison on Vancouver Island, to Ottawa, where he says he has family support.

Ever since Tracy's death, disability groups across North America have pushed for Robert Latimer to pay for his crime. Many have feared that his early release would reinforce the commonly held idea that the lives of people with severe disabilities are not worth living.

The Canadian Association for Community Living responded that the Latimer case is a symptom of this much larger problem.

"The bigger issue here is the vulnerability of people with significant disabilities and those who live with unremitting pain and who may be perceived by others as suffering," the CACL wrote in a press statement.

"This isn't just a debate about Robert Latimer and his daughter Tracy. While this case has been a very public example of that vulnerability, it is now the time to have the broader discussion about the right of all people to live in safe and inclusive communities and the roles and responsibilities of individuals, communities and systems in ensuring respect for the equal integrity, value and worth of the lives of Canadians with disabilities."

Jim Derksen, of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told CTV, "I would hope that he does not continue to assert the righteousness of the crime he committed, and that no one would make the mistake of thinking that our society condones the murder of (the disabled)."

Latimer will be able to seek full parole in less than three years.

"Robert Latimer granted day parole" (National Post)
Text of decision by National Parole Board Appeal Division
"Commentary: Canada just became scarier for the disabled" (National Post)
"Tracy Latimer's Death -- Mercy or Murder?" (Inclusion Daily Express Archives)

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