A Saskatchewan Perspective: Pat Danforth Speaks Out

[27 October 1997]

What activities will the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities be undertaking during the upcoming trial of Robert Latimer?

During the trial we will have somebody from the Voice in the court at all times. We want to be able to have a good understanding of what is going on during jury selection and during the actual trial.

How has the Saskatchewan media covered the trial in the past?

In the past, the Saskatchewan media has treated the case similar to the way all the media have. They have sensationalized the case and they have perpetuated the myth that a national debate is taking place. They ignore the fact that we are really dealing with a murder case.

The Saskatchewan Voice is the group closest to the case. How do people at the grassroots feel about the case?

With all honesty, at the grassroots level, some people have sympathy for Robert Latimer. They have bought into the climate out there that the media has helped create. That climate suggests that we are dealing with a case of assisted suicide or mercy killing. They have not understand that it is a case of murder. There are members of the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities that have a great deal of difficulty with the position that the organization has taken.

There is also, though, an incredible amount of support from the parents of children who are disabled. The parents are afraid to speak out. They are glad that we are. They see it as a clear cut case of murder.

Why won't the children of parents with disabilities speak out on their own?

We have had numerous calls. They call and say "we are glad that someone is doing the work you have undertaken, but we do not see ourselves as the best spokespeople because we don't have disabilities."

Some are parents who have children who are nonverbal.

There are some parents who have spoken out but not that many.

Does the public's reaction in support of Latimer scare you?

Of course, the public's reaction to Latimer scares me! It is a constant struggle to just have people understand and frame what the issue really is. It goes back to the fact that sometimes the public can be quite gullible and they have bought into arguments that this could not be murder, even though there was premeditation and a clear confession by the killer.

How have the public reacted to the advocates within the Saskatchewan Voice who have spoken out on behalf of Tracy Latimer and the protection of fundamental human rights of persons with disabilities?

It varies. I have had a couple of threatening phone calls. I called the police, because I was threatened for speaking out on the issue of the murder of Tracy Latimer. I find that really frightening.

On the positive side, I have had comments from people who are from Wilkie, Saskatchewan and they have said that it is good that people are finally speaking out. They feel that there never has been a clear understanding of who Tracy Latimer was, that she was the victim and that she will never be able to give her point of view to counteract the view that the media has given us of her life. We need to speak for Tracy.

Some people say that Robert Latimer is not a threat to society and therefore should not serve jail time. How do you respond to this?

Do we put people away because they have done something wrong or do we put people away because they are a threat to society. I think that is the bottom line. A powerful emotion comes into play when we know that someone has committed a premeditated murder. To me that is the worst crime imaginable. The way that we have defined in Canada to deal with murder, is to put the murderer away from the public, in jail. In this case, you are dealing with someone who is unrepentant that he killed his daughter and has used the justice system in a way to attract public attention away from murder. He has served one day in jail for his crime.

What can you tell us about Tracy's life?

I can't tell you much. She was a little girl who happened to have cerebral palsy, that made her nonverbal and meant that she needed assistance for some things that others don't need assistance for. We can't substantiate what that meant. We will not know because she is not here.

How much time will the trial take?

Likely two weeks.

Biographical Note

Pat Danforth is a member of CCD's Human Rights Committee and CCD's Transportation Committee.

She is a former Provincial Coordinator of the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities.

Pat has served as a Member of the National Transportation Agency which is a federal body regulating transportation in Canada.

Pat will be available for press interviews during the Latimer trial. Pat's email address is pdanfort@sk.sympatico.ca or you can contact her by phone at 306-787-2426 or 949-0337.