Paul Young Speaks Out: An Interview with People First's President

[25 September 1997]

What is People First's viewpoint on the Latimer case?

It is much the same as CCD's, actually. We believe that Mr. Latimer should have been convicted of murder. He did murder a real person. Society and the media have made the argument that she was suffering. Mr. Latimer made the argument that he couldn't do anything with her and that she was in a lot of pain. It is a question of devaluing people who appear to be not very capable and are severely handicapped. My question is to all those who will listen to me—where were the governments? Why didn't they see that Latimer had the proper supports for Tracy, because Tracy was a citizens of Canada. Because she had a severe disability, this should not diminish her citizenship. Basically that is where we are at. We are wondering why people devalue people with handicaps, the so-called severely disabled.

Is this an issue that People First is focusing its energy on?

Absolutely. A lot of our members, or our potential members, may not be able to verbally communicate; or they may not be informed in the manner that they need to be informed in order to make decisions. Many of our members have been locked away in institutions. Basically a lot of them have been tortured in institutions. They have had no

opportunity to tell people in a way that they can communicate why they should not be in institutions. So it is up to People First Canada to make sure that their voices are heard. They want to be part of the community with the proper supports that they need as individuals.

What do the grassroots People First members say to you when the Tracy Latimer case is brought up?

Many of our members are not aware of the case until we point it out to them. We have to tell them what the issues are. A lot of People First members are being serviced by people who see Tracy the same way that media sees Tracy. They portray her as someone who was suffering. We try to teach some members of People First that this is an issue; because some are not aware that it is.

What scares you about the public reaction to the Latimer case?

What scares me is that they see no value in someone who verbally cannot communicate or appears to be very disabled. They just write them off. They just write off most people who are labeled any way, whether they can verbally speak or not. People with disabilities are seen as perpetually child-like people who will never grow up. If you do not treat people who are labeled with respect and teach them what a real community is like they will never get the skills to be part of the community.

How do you respond to people who say that Robert Latimer is not a threat to the community?

If you let one individual do that then it sets a precedent for others who with a lesser excuse will do away with someone who has a disability.

Has People First in your area done activities to make the media and the general public aware of your viewpoints on the Latimer case?

Not in my area because we are not quite organized in Nova Scotia the way they are in other parts of Canada. In Ontario and Saskatchewan, there have been quite a lot of activities and also in BC I believe. In our area, there has not been organized activity, little pockets maybe, not a full extensive organizing as there was in Ontario. They had candle light vigils and they made their presence really felt. Again it depends on how well the basic grassroots are developed.

When the Supreme Court decision came down in the Latimer case was People First present at the Court?

Yes we were there just like CCD was there.

What would you like to see happen on this issue?

That is a good question. I will have to take a moment to think about that one. I would like to see Mr. Latimer be convicted of murder. I do not know what degree of murder. I am not a lawyer or anything. I think he should be convicted. It would set the example so that people do not get the idea that they can all of a sudden start mercy killing. I hope that he goes to trial and that it is a fair trial this time and that he is convicted. I believe in my heart, and most of my members do too, that he murdered his daughter. It wasn't a mercy killing. It was strictly a murder.

Is there anything that you would like to add that the questions have not covered?

I would like to see the media and society look at people like Tracy and realize that they are people and that they deserve support, whether that be medical support or other support, to be clearly supported to live in the community in a dignified way as full citizens of Canada. The way I see it is that the media has too much power to influence people with their values and do not look into the facts behind the story about people like Tracy. Why wasn't there support in a rural region? Why does a person with a disability have to live in an urban area in order to get proper support? Where is the government's commitment? Where is society's commitment to support people like Tracy? We send money overseas to all kinds of countries and help them to develop and that's fine. But when are they going to start putting some value and make it a priority to put people with disabilities in the community with full supports.

People First Canada

People First Canada exists to:

  • promote equality and opportunity for all persons who have been labeled mentally handicapped.
  • assist each other in speaking for ourselves and making our own decisions.
  • develop and promote community recognition of persons who have been labeled mentally handicapped with a view to encouraging recognition and appreciation for the rights, abilities and strengths of persons who have been labeled mentally handicapped.

People First Canada's national office is located in Toronto. To learn more about them call 416-920-9530.

Biographical Note

Paul Young resides in Sydney NS, where he works for CBC. He is a CCD Council rep.