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TRACY LATIMER'S DEATH: MERCY OR MURDER?
"Murder is murder. What would have happened if the child was
able-bodied? She was a human. She counted."
Legal summary of Latimer's appeal:
Tracy Latimer's Killer Appeals
Many have questioned if Latimer's act was a "mercy killing" or simply murder committed because he was tired of dealing with his own emotional pain. Some who knew Tracy said that even though the girl could not speak, she let them know how much she loved people and enjoyed life. Others point to the fact that Tracy had been scheduled to undergo pain-relieving hip surgery a few days after her death.
The case has become a focal point of a debate between disability rights advocates who see Tracy's death as one of countless examples of extreme abuse of people with disabilities, and people who believe that "mercy killing" is justified when the victim has a severe disability. Most on both sides agree, however, that the media and the general public sentiment favors Robert Latimer.
Latimer was convicted in 1997 for the murder, but the conviction was thrown out amid questions of possible jury tampering by the prosecutor. A second jury also convicted Latimer, but said that the life sentence with a mandatory ten years before parole was too harsh given the "suffering he had already endured as the father of a child with severe disabilities". The judge agreed to go against the Charter of Rights to sentence Latimer to two years -- one year to be served in jail and the rest on his ranch. Saskatchewan's Supreme Court overturned that judge's decision and imposed the life sentence.
Tomorrow, the Canadian Supreme Court will hear Latimer's appeal, and his claims that a life sentence with a ten year minimum is "cruel and unusual punishment". And for the first time, disability rights advocates will be on hand to argue that Robert Latimer should serve out no less than ten years -- in prison.
Here is an item from Dick Sobsey, a father who has lost one child with a severe disability. Dick admonishes the media for portraying parents like Robert Latimer as "victims" and others as "heroes". He also salutes fathers of children with disabilities, pointing out that most are "ordinary guys".
From the Ragged Edge:
Robert Latimer's Attorney and Disability
Rights Advocates Address High Court
Robert Latimer is asking for a constitutional exemption that would have him serve two years of a life sentence -- one year on his ranch -- as originally imposed by the 1998 jury that convicted him, rather than the mandatory minimum ten years that was later imposed by the Saskatchewan Supreme Court. "It is an unforgivable suggestion that Bob and Laura ever acted out of anything but love for their daughter," Greenspan told the court.
Greenspan also dismissed claims from disability rights advocates that feel that such a ruling would further devalue people who have disabilities. "It is not a case of open season on the most vulnerable in society," he argued.
Advocates asked that the maximum sentence be imposed and pointed out that there would have been no question regarding Robert Latimer's sentence if Tracy had not had a disability. Making an exception in this case would create a legal double standard in which people with disabilities can be murdered without fear of punishment, they argued.
Latimer was not present, today, but some of his supporters marched outside in the rain. One said he is being unfairly punished for doing what "any father would do if he loved his children".
Museum Exhibit Shows Latimer As One Of
"I am actually appalled that a public institution would put the murder of a child with a disability in the context of the Beatitudes of being blessed as merciful," Zuhy Sayeed, of the Canadian and Alberta Association of Community Living, told a reporter last Friday.
Latimer admits that on October 24, 1993, he rigged his pickup to pump exhaust into its cab. He also confessed to placing his 12-year-old daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy, into that cab, and then watching from the bed of the vehicle while she died. Latimer has been convicted twice of the murder.
His case is currently being reviewed by the Canadian Supreme Court which will decide whether he will serve a mandatory 10-year sentence for the crime or, have his sentence reduced to one year, because of "special circumstances". Some of Latimer's supporters feel he "suffered" during the girl's 12 years of life, and that he killed her to "save her from suffering".
But disability rights advocates see the death of Tracy Latimer, and the support her killer has received, as an example of society's intolerance of disabilities and general perception that the lives of people who have disabilities are disposable.
The museum is refusing to change the exhibit, arguing that its intent was to show that certain issues that are important today were just as relevant during Jesus' life two thousand years ago. The issue is now being reviewed by the Ministry of Community Development.
Edmonton's Global TV Online ran this brief summary, along with a
video clip about the
For the last several years, the Council of Canadians with
Disabilities has hosted "Latimer Watch", a website dedicated to sharing
information on the Latimer case. This website gives valuable information about
Tracy Latimer, the history of the case, and perspectives of those who see her
death as a "wake-up call" to advocates everywhere:
Advocates to Meet With Museum Over Latimer
The controversy surrounds the opening last week of "Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries". Disability rights advocates are demanding the museum remove scenes from a presentation entitled "Blessed are the Merciful", in which Robert Latimer is presented along with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa. Latimer was convicted in 1997 of second-degree murder for gassing to death his 12-year-old daughter Tracy on the family's rural Saskatchewan farm. Tracy, who had cerebral palsy was scheduled to have surgery to relieve hip pain when her father killed her in October of 1993. Some have referred to his act as a "mercy-killing".
AACL members are also asking the museum to formally apologize for the Latimer segment, the title of which refers to the Biblical passage from St. Matthew, known as The Beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
"I'm hoping for a resolution," AACL president Robin Acton told the Edmonton Sun. "But I don't think we've moved away from our demands."
The Provincial Museum has refused to make any changes or submit an apology, calling this a freedom of speech issue.
Activists Claim Exhibit Program is "Hate
The Alberta Association for Community Living has sent a letter to Alberta Justice Minister David Hancock, asking for permission to start criminal proceedings against organizers of the Provincial Museum's current exhibit, entitled "Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries". The exhibit's program includes references to Robert Latimer, who was convicted of killing his daughter, Tracy, who had cerebral palsy and mental retardation. Latimer admitted gassing Tracy to death on October 23, 1993, but claimed he did it to "end her suffering".
The printed program includes references to Latimer, along with Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and others, in a section whose name is taken from a Biblical passage from St. Matthew, known as The Beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."
Last month, a number of pictures were removed from a video at the exhibit. Now advocates want the printed material to also be changed.
More details on the action, and the response from the government,
are available in this article from the Edmonton
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) has put together
this index of information related to the Latimer case:
High Court to Decide Robert Latimer's
On October 24, 1993, Robert Latimer sat in the back of his pickup truck and watched as he pumped exhaust into the cab which held his 12-year-old daughter Tracy. When he was certain she was dead, he took Tracy's body into the family's Saskatchewan farm house and put her to bed.
Latimer initially denied allegations that he killed Tracy. But two days later he confessed, saying he did it out of love for the girl, that he did not want to see her continue to suffer from her cerebral palsy and mental retardation -- that it was a "mercy killing".
Latimer was convicted in 1997 for the murder, but the conviction was thrown out because police had asked potential jurors what they thought about euthanasia.
A second jury also convicted Latimer of murder. But that jury said the "life" sentence, with a mandatory ten years before parole, was too harsh given the "suffering he had already endured as the father of a child with severe disabilities". The judge in the case agreed to go against the Charter of Rights and sentenced Latimer to just two years -- one year to be served in jail and the rest on his ranch. Later, Saskatchewan's Supreme Court overturned that judge's decision and re-imposed the life sentence.
Last June, Latimer appealed the decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, claiming that a life sentence with a ten year minimum is "cruel and unusual punishment". Thursday morning, the court will rule on that appeal.
The Latimer case has been the focus of attention of disability rights advocates around the world who see it as one of countless examples that society in general does not think the lives of people with disabilities are important -- that killing people who have disabilities is not only tolerated, but also justified as "merciful".
Many suggest that Robert Latimer simply murdered Tracy because he was tired of dealing with his own emotional pain. Some people who knew Tracy said that even though the girl did not speak, she let them know how much she loved people and enjoyed life. Others point to the fact that when Tracy died, she was scheduled to undergo pain-relieving hip surgery a few days later.
For more information on the Latimer case, including a biography
and photograph of Tracy, go to this "Latimer Watch" website hosted by the
Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD):
A legal summary of the appeal can be found on the Inclusion Daily
Express website at:
Robert Latimer to Spend At Least 10 Years
Latimer had confessed to gassing Tracy to death in 1993, but said he did so out of love for her, to end the "suffering" caused by her cerebral palsy and mental retardation. He was convicted of murder in his first trial. But the case was thrown out because police had asked some of the jurors questions regarding how they felt about euthanasia, known as "mercy killing".
The jury at his second trial convicted him of murder, too, but they did so without knowing that Canadian law would require him to spend at least ten years in prison. When the jury learned this, they asked the trial judge to go against Canadian law and sentence Latimer to just two years. A higher court later said that trial judge could not give Latimer less than the ten year sentence. Latimer appealed that decision, saying his ten year sentence would be "cruel and unusual punishment". His appeal was heard by the Supreme Court of Canada last June.
In announcing its unanimous ruling, the high court this morning said it could find no reason to grant Latimer the shorter sentence, that he was fully responsible for his daughter's death.
"This is not a crime!" Latimer told reporters from his home after hearing about the decision. He placed the blame for his situation on everyone from disability rights advocates to the police who arrested him, whom he called "jury-riggin perjurors".
"There are some very sick people at work, here," Latimer added.
Disability rights advocates are celebrating the decision, which they said will help to protect people with disabilities like Tracy.
But, some are suggesting advocates remain cautious and keep working hard for the rights of people with disabilities. They point out that Latimer was sent to prison by only by a "technicality", and that the members of the court really wanted to find a way to let him go early.
This battle may have been won, but the war over society's view of Latimer and his daughter remains.
As Robert Latimer told reporters this morning:
This page from the CBC has several useful links, including video
and audio segments and interviews:
For those who are interested, the entire text of the Supreme
Court's decision is available at this web
Latimer Supporters Rally For Murderer's
As it turns out, Latimer has one more chance to be freed early -- a pardon from the federal justice minister.
On Wednesday, a group of his supporters gathered in front of the prison to ask Justice Minister Anne McLellan to shorten Latimer's sentence or have him serve his time on the rural Saskatchewan ranch where he gassed 12-year-old Tracy to death in 1993.
Meanwhile, the People in Equal Participation has gathered over 1,000 signatures from people all over Canada urging the federal justice minister to not grant a pardon for Latimer. "It's unbelievable people are supporting him," says Theresa Ducharme, president of the group.
Latimer has said he will not ask for clemency until he has served at least one year of the life sentence.
This CBC website is a "jumping off point" for several articles,
video segments, and audio interviews related to the Latimer case:
The Council of Canadians with Disabilities has this comprehensive
website, called "Latimer Watch", with a great deal of background on the
Supporters of 'Mercy Killer' Hold
Latimer is just four months into a life sentence for murdering his 12-year-old daughter Tracy who had cerebral palsy, mental retardation and physical disabilities. Under Canadian law, those sentenced to life in prison must serve at least 10 years.
Latimer's supporters, which included his sister and a nephew who uses a wheelchair, want the government to grant him clemency, which is the only way the Saskatchewan farmer could be released early from prison. They say other demonstrations are scheduled around Canada.
On October 24, 1993, Robert Latimer sat in the back of his pickup truck and watched as he pumped exhaust into the cab which held his daughter. When he was certain Tracy was dead, Latimer took her body into the family's farm house and put her to bed.
Latimer initially denied that he killed Tracy. But two days later he confessed, saying he did it out of love for the girl, that he did not want to see her continue to suffer -- that it was a "mercy killing".
The case has become a focal point of a debate between disability rights advocates who see Tracy's death as one of countless examples of extreme abuse toward people with disabilities, and people who believe that "mercy killing" is justified when the victim has a severe disability. Most on both sides agree, however, that the media and the Canadian public favor Robert Latimer.
Support For Tracy Latimer's Killer Has
Led To More Child Deaths
Some people defend Tracy's murderer, saying he killed her to keep her from having to "suffer" from cerebral palsy, mental retardation and other disabilities. Those defenders say it is an "injustice" for Latimer to stay behind bars, that he "suffered" by having a daughter with disabilities, and that he would not harm another person if released.
Now, Professor Dick Sobsey, from the J. P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre at the University of Alberta, presents evidence that the public support for Robert Latimer has resulted in a tremendous increase in the number of murders of children by their parents.
This story was included in last week's Report Magazine, which is
available on line at this address:
The website for the J. P. Das Developmental Disabilities
Robert Latimer Supporters Don't Get Far
Latimer is currently serving a mandatory minimum 10 years of a life sentence for killing his daughter Tracy in 1993. The Saskatchewan farmer confessed to putting 12-year-old Tracy into his pickup, and then watching her die as he pumped exhaust into the cab. Latimer insisted he killed Tracy to "end her suffering" from her disabilities including mental retardation and cerebral palsy.
Latimer began serving time in prison this January after the Supreme Court ruled that he must serve at least 10 years of his life sentence. He is eligible for day parole in 2007. Latimer's only chance for earlier release is to apply for clemency from the Governor General or the cabinet. His attorney says he will not apply for clemency until after he has served two years of his sentence.
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association wants the government to pardon Latimer and to put an end to mandatory sentences. The group believes that his sentence is too harsh.
Justice Minister Anne McLellan quickly dismissed the idea of reviewing the mandatory sentencing issue. "We have very few mandatory minimums, I have no intention of ending the ones we have. Next," she said Thursday.
Solicitor-General Lawrence MacAulay said he won't move forward on clemency until Latimer files an application.
Disability rights advocates want Latimer to serve his full term. They point out that when he killed Tracy she was scheduled for treatment that could have reduced any physical pain she may have been experiencing.
Diane Richler of the Canadian Association of Community Living, told the Canadian Press much of the public supports Latimer because most people don't have close contact with people who have disabilities like Tracy.
"Really, what people are saying is: 'I don't know if I would have been able to be a good parent to Tracy, don't test me. And make sure if that ever happens to me or my children, that we have a way out."', she said.
Robert Latimer Makes Top 10
Canada's highest court last January ruled that Latimer must serve the minimum ten years of a life sentence for killing his daughter Tracy back in 1993. Latimer had confessed to gassing Tracy to death to keep her from "suffering" from her disabilities.
Latimer's case was one of two cases directly related to the deaths of young daughters with disabilities that made the list. The other concerned Jeffrey Smith, who was convicted of manslaughter related to the 1994 death of one of his twin daughters. The Ontario Court of Appeal refused Smith's request to introduce new expert testimony to show that the girl, who was born prematurely and had a number of health problems, died from a brain hemorrhage caused by a birth defect. The prosecution had successfully argued that her brain hemorrhage was caused by her father shaking her violently.
You can access the entire list and summaries from the Toronto Star
Sympathy For Robert Latimer Linked To
Increase In Child Murders
Between 1994 and 1998, the average rate of such deaths was 49, with 62 cases in 1997 alone.
So, why this increase in what Sobsey calls "altruistic filicide", the killing of a child out of a belief that death is in the child's best interest?
Sobsey, the head of J.P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, points to the 1993 murder of Tracy Latimer, and the media coverage surrounding her death and her murderer's court trials.
"After 1994, we saw a big increase in the number of parents killing their children in Canada," Sobsey said.
Robert Latimer gassed to death 12-year-old Tracy by pumping pick-up exhaust into the cab where he had placed her. He was convicted of murder after he confessed killing Tracy to "end her suffering" from her developmental disabilities.
Latimer is currently serving a minimum 10 years of a life sentence in a Saskatchewan prison.
The case has become a focal point of a debate between disability rights advocates who see Tracy's death as one of countless examples of extreme abuse upon people with disabilities, and people who believe that "mercy killing" is justified when the victim has a severe disability. Most on both sides agree, however, that the media and public sentiment favors Robert Latimer.
Tuesday night, Sobsey said that early news coverage was very sympathetic toward Latimer, often presenting him as a loving father who wanted to end his daughter's suffering.
"It was only during the trial that some of the things said in the media reports - that Tracy was born dead and resuscitated, that she couldn't tolerate pain medication - were shown to be false," said Sobsey.
"Over time the reporting became more balanced and thoughtful. But there was an early bandwagon effect in the press."
"People will identify more closely with a person in the public eye who is portrayed as noble or heroic," Sobsey added, according to the Edmonton Journal.
Background and past articles on the Latimer case are available
from this Inclusion Daily Express Web page: