People with Disabilities Outraged by Murders

(5 February 1997) — The killing of Tracy Latimer by her father, Robert Latimer, alarmed people with disabilities. The outpouring of public support for Robert Latimer also shocked people with disabilities. At the time of the first trial, the perspective of people with disabilities was largely ignored. It was Robert Latimer, Tracy's killer, who presented the Canadian public, via the media, with its understanding of Tracy Latimer and her life. Public opinion became skewed by an ableist bias because the voice of Canada's community of persons with disabilities was largely ignored.

CCD's motto is a VOICE OF OUR OWN, which means that the organization speaks out on issues of concern to people with disabilities. CCD's Human Rights Committee, which is chaired by Hugh Scher, took up the challenge to ensure that the perspective of people with disabilities informed both the legal and public discussions about the killing of Tracy Latimer.

CCD has undertaken the following activities to support the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities:

In January 1995, CCD and the Saskatchewan Voice won intervenor status in Latimer's appeal.

On 23 February 1995, CCD explained to the Court of Appeal why it would be discriminatory for Latimer to receive a reduced sentence.

In November 1995, CCD hosted a community meeting to plan a litigation strategy to protect fundamental human rights.

In February 1996, the CCD Council agreed to develop a book commemorating the Tracy Latimer vigils, organized by the community of persons with disabilities.

In October 1996, CCD launched the Latimer Watch to educate the community about the need to protect the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities.

On 20 November 1996, Eric Norman, CCD's Chairperson, circulated an open letter to Canadians seeking their support of CCD's position that the murder of a person with a disability is to be treated the same as a murder of any other person.

On 27 November 1996, Catherine Frazee, a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee, attended Latimer's Supreme Court appeal and presented CCD's perspective on the appeal to the media.

In November of 1996, some of CCD's member groups organized activities to commemorate Tracy's life. For example, the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities announced plans to develop a memorial monument for Tracy Latimer.

The vigilance on this issue is due to the fact that people with disabilities have been touched on a very deep level by the murder of Tracy Latimer. "We feel Tracy's vulnerability heightened as our neighbors and colleagues suggest that there was something noble and humane in what Robert Latimer did to his daughter," states Eric Norman, CCD Chairperson.

"We grieve Tracy's senseless death. We are pained and horrified each time we see Tracy Latimer portrayed as a creature less than human. We are enraged by the insinuations that Tracy's life was not worth living," adds Mr. Norman.

More than any other event, Tracy Latimer's killing prompted Canadians with disabilities to advocate the protection of our most fundamental human right. While working on the issues connected with the Latimer case, the community of persons with disabilities became aware that too many Canadians with disabilities have been killed due to the fact that they were a person with a disability.

Through the Latimer Watch, CCD works to ensure that those who have been killed just because they had a disability are not forgotten. Tracy is not the only person in Canada who had their life taken from them. Some of the others include:

Ronald Lambert, an 11 year old boy with multiple disabilities, was murdered by a nurses aid in a Manitoba institution in 1977.

James Nazar, who was a quadriplegic, was shot to death by his father in 1992.

Ryan Wilkieson, a Hamilton teenager with CP, was the victim of a murder-suicide perpetrated by his mother Cathy Wilkieson.

Katie Lynn Baker, 10, who had Rhett Syndrome, was allowed to starve to death by her mother and the BC social service system in May 1996.

Charles Blais, a 6 year old who was autistic, was drowned by his mother on 7 November 1996 in Montreal.

Andrea Halpin, a 35 year old woman labeled mentally handicapped, was shot to death on 14 November 1996 by her father in Montreal.

This list is shamefully long. Its very existence demonstrates that the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities are disrespected in Canadian society.

This message is further brought home by the fact that there are Canadian Senators who are prepared to legalize what they call "compassionate homicide". In June 1995, the Special Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide recommended that Parliament should consider the creation of a separate offense of compassionate homicide that would carry a less severe penalty than a mandatory life sentence.

On 3 December 1996, Bill S-13, an Act to Amend the Criminal Code (protection of health care workers) moved into second reading. The intent of the Bill S-13 is to make it easier for health care professionals to withhold life sustaining treatment. This Bill is sponsored by Senator Sharon Carstairs.

Mrs. Carstairs' Bill has sparked a great deal of concern within the community of persons with disabilities; because it provides no protection to vulnerable people. Indeed, Bill S-13 is completely silent on the topic of safeguards.

When asked by the media about the Latimer case, Senator Carstairs commented, "I'm no judge but I think the appropriate sentence in this case would have been between three and six months."

Prof. Dick Sobsey, an expert with regard to violence against people with disabilities, explains that accepting attitudes toward Latimer's killing of his daughter are a symptom of discrimination and violence against people with disabilities and a fundamental cause of future killings and abuse. Through its work on the Latimer case, CCD is working to change attitudes about the murder of people with disabilities and official responses to such murders.

Spokespersons Available

CCD's Human Rights Committee is available for comment on the Latimer case.

Hugh Scher, a lawyer, is the Chairperson of CCD's Human Rights Committee. (Tel: 416-515-9686)

Catherine Frazee, is a past Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (Tel: 416-924-5502)

Jim Derksen, a past CCD Chairperson, has worked extensively at both the national and international level to advance the human rights of persons with disabilities. (Tel:204-947-0303 (days), 204-786-7937 (evenings))

Pat Danforth is a past Coordinator of the Saskatchewan Voice. (Tel: 306-787-2426)

Gregor Wolbring, a University of Calgary researcher in the Department of Biochemistry, is an internationally known advocate on disability rights issues. (403-220-5448)

Laurie Beachell is CCD's National Coordinator. (Tel: 204-947-0303)

The Tracy Fund has been set up to ensure the CCD can speak out on cases where disabled people have been murdered. . Send donations to: The Tracy Fund c/o CCD, 926-294 Portage Ave.,Winnipeg, MB R3C 0B9. To help promote the fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities, contribute to the Tracy Fund. (CCD, 926-294 Portage Ave., Winnipeg MB, R3C 0B9.)