Executive Director - Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.
This article is an edited version of an article that I wrote in January 2001 that was published on the DAWN (Disabled Womens Network) website.
On January 18, 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the decision of the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal giving Robert Latimer the mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder of 25 years in prison 10 years before parole eligibility.
Vulnerable people across Canada can be assured that they will be equally protected under the law.
There are many misconceptions pertaining to the Latimer case that need to be cleared.
Tracy Latimer was born with a severe form of cerebral palsy. She was unable to walk, or talk. She had many seizures and was cognitively disabled. She depended on others for all of her basic needs in life.
Even though she was unable to do many things, she would smile, laugh, and cry. She could think, communicate and recognize the people she knew. She loved music, and campfires. She was fed with a spoon, and went by bus everyday to school.
Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy on October 24, 1993, by putting her into the cab of the family pickup truck, connecting a hose from the exhaust into the cab of the truck and gassed her to death. Robert Latimer confessed to killing Tracy and allowed the police to videotape his explanation. He claims that his motive for killing his daughter was that he had no other choice because of how much he loved her.
In the trials, both Robert and his wife Laura claimed that Tracy was experiencing constant and uncontrollable pain. If this were true then why were they allowing Tracy to suffer when her pain was medically controllable?
Their testimony conflicted with the writings in Laura's own diary pertaining to the daily condition of Tracy. Laura's diary stated that Tracy was often happy and smiling, and lately she had been eating well. Tracy's teacher described her as a happy and loving person who did not show signs of extreme and uncontrolled pain, even though she had a dislocated hip. Tracy was scheduled for surgery to repair her dislocated hip which would have alleviated the pain and discomfort she was experiencing. In fact, Robert Latimer was charged with homicide on the same day that her surgery was scheduled to happen (November 4, 1993).
Many people are under the impression that the Latimers were overly burdened and lacking in support and respite care for Tracy. In fact, Tracy had lived in a respite home in North Battleford from July until early October, 1993. Tracy had returned home because she was scheduled for surgery. Tracy was also at school everyday.
On October 12, just twelve days before Tracy was killed, Robert Latimer was offered a permanent institutional placement for Tracy in North Battleford. He rejected the placement because he said he had ‘other plans'. He later admitted to police that he had already decided to kill Tracy.
Generally, Tracy was a happy girl with a significant disability and serious health problems. Tracy did not die from her condition, but because of her condition.
I ask the question, did having a severe disability make Tracy any less human? The Supreme Court has upheld Tracy as an equal citizen.
There are thousands of people in Canada who have physical and mental disabilities. The Latimers are not the only family who struggle with the care of a family member.
For some people, pain and symptom management is a normal part of their life. These people are often dependant on the care of others and need the support of community. These people also need to be protected from those people who question their "quality of life" or their right to live. Able-bodied people cannot judge the "quality of life" of a person with a disability. Tracy needed care and protection, not death. The care and protection we grant to people with disabilities may be positively affected by the punishment that is served by Robert Latimer.
I have sympathy for the Latimer family and all people in society, like my family, who care for a family member with a disability. I also have sympathy for Tracy Latimer and people like her who are cared for by people who would rather see them dead.
We call on the Federal and Provincial governments to re-examine the level of care that is provided for people with disabilities, the elderly, the chronically ill, and all other vulnerable people who are highly dependant on others for their basic care. Canada must now become a leader in the care and equality of people with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable citizens to prevent other Latimer type cases.
A just society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens.
All of the facts are directly taken from testimony at the actual trials of Robert Latimer.
Link to article by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities: