The Reaction of People with Disabilities to Tracy's Murder

23 October 1996—Tracy Latimer's murder outraged and alarmed people with disabilities. While people with disabilities have a definite perspective on Robert Latimer's crime, the media largely ignored our viewpoint during the trial and the first appeal. As our analysis did not help inform public discourse, the conclusions reached often were skewed by an ablest bias. During the lead up to the Latimer's Supreme Court appeal, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities' (CCD) Human Rights Committee is endeavoring to ensure that the voice of people with disabilities is heard by Canadians.

A number of CCD volunteers with disabilities are available to provide commentary on Latimer's appeal and the questions it raises. If you are preparing a piece for publication on the Latimer case, the following are prepared to share a disability rights analysis: Hugh Scher 416-515-9686, Catherine Frazee 416-924-5502, Jim Derksen 204-786-7937.

Mr. Scher is a constitutional lawyer and chairperson of CCD's Human Rights Committee. Ms. Frazee is a former Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Mr. Derksen is a recognized expert on disability rights, who worked for the House of Commons' Committee on the Disabled and the Handicapped and for Disabled Peoples' International. Both Ms. Frazee and Mr. Derksen are members of CCD's Human Rights Committee.

To further counteract our absence from public discussions, CCD collected the writings of people with disabilities responding to the Tracy's murder; and we are presently preparing this material for publication. CCD's publication will contain items like the following piece by Teague Johnson.

In this piece a young boy with a disability in circumstances very similar to Tracy's talks about quality of life. As is obvious from Teague's article, it is possible to have an excellent quality of life despite severe limitations. Tracy might have said the same thing, if she had had the opportunity.

My Body is Not my Enemy

by Teague Johnson

My name is Teague. I am 11 years old and have really severe cerebral palsy. The Latimer case in Saskatchewan has caused me a great deal of unhappiness and worry over the past few weeks. I feel very strongly that all children are valuable and deserve to live full and complete lives. No one should make the decision of another person about whether their life is worth living or not.

I have a friend who had CP and he decided that life was too hard and too painful. So he really let himself die. I knew he was leaving this world and letting himself dwell in the spiritual world. I told him that I understood that the spiritual world was really compelling, but that life was worth fighting for. I had to fight to live when I was very sick. The doctors said I wouldn't live long, but I knew I had so much to accomplish still.

I have to fight pain all the time. When I was little life was pain, I couldn't remember no pain. My foster Mom Cara helped me learn to manage and control my pain. Now my life is so full of joy. There isn't time enough in the day for me to learn and experience all I wish to. I have a family and many friends who love me. I have a world of knowledge to discover. I have so much to give.

I can't walk or talk or feed myself. By I am not "suffering from cerebral palsy". I use a wheel chair, but I am not "confined to a wheelchair". I have pain, but I do not need to be "put out of my misery".

My body is not my enemy. It is that which allows me to enjoy Mozart, experience Shakespeare, savor a bouillabaisse feast and cuddle my Mom. Life is a precious gift. It belongs to the person to whom it was given. Not to her parents, nor to the state. Tracy's life was hers "to make of it what she could". My life is going to be astounding.

(Teague's story is reprinted from The Vancouver Sun, 9 December 1994.)

Teague's story makes a critical contribution to society's understanding of Tracy's murder. His writing was one of the few pieces that looked at the murder from the vantage point of a person in similar circumstances to Tracy. More stories like Teague's need to find their way onto the pages of Canada's newspapers as Robert Latimer's second appeal pushes its way into the public consciousness.

Getting the media to pay attention to our issues may be more difficult this time because CCD and the Saskatchewan Voice do not have standing in the court for this Appeal. This Appeal will be looking at legal questions concerning how Robert Latimer's confession was handled by the police and this is an issue on which our movement does not have policy. Since we are not a player in the courtroom, the media may not automatically come to us; therefore we may have to go to them.

Some Tips From David Martin, MLPD, About Getting An "Op Ed" Piece Accepted by the Media

Following Latimer's first appeal, David Martin wrote an "op ed" piece for the Winnipeg Free Press. David reports that he used the following tactics to convince the Editor to run his piece:

- Meet with your local editorial board to discuss your concerns about how they have been treating issues;

- Do advance planning. Offer to have a piece ready for the paper on the day that the Appeal is heard or the decision comes down.

"Because of our spiritual connection to Tracy Latimer, a number of organizations representing Canadians with disabilities felt compelled to intervene in the public debate...This was absolutely necessary because, up until that time, the highest profile person speaking on behalf of Tracy Latimer was the very person who killed her." David Martin (Winnipeg Free Press)

Upcoming Events

If your group has an activity planned for 27 November 1996 and want the Latimer Watch to publicize it, forward CCD a brief summary.

To contribute to the Tracy Fund, please forward your donation to CCD, 926-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg, MB., R3C 0B9. (Tel: 204-947-0303, Fax: 204-942-4625.