Deterrent Necessary: What A Difference A Week Makes

(25 November 1997) — Our community was relieved to see that Robert Latimer was convicted of the murder of his daughter Tracy. The verdict upheld our basic right as people with disabilities to equal protection and benefit of the law. However, over the last week the debate has once again shifted focus from the murder of Tracy to "how could we possibly jail Robert Latimer 'the salt of the earth' for ten years?" We find once again a significant outpouring of support for Robert Latimer and his family. CCD urges everyone to think carefully about some of the arguments being proposed.

Remember, Robert Latimer has shown no remorse to the deliberate killing of his daughter. In fact, in his first trial he told reporters and the public that it was a "family affair" and of no concern to anyone else. Robert Latimer suggests that he had a right to kill and do so with impunity. He does not believe he did anything wrong. How did we get to the point where many of the arguments put forward condone murder of another human being and suggest there be no consequence?

Canadians with disabilities were relieved that Robert Latimer was convicted but once again as the public debate continues we fear for our lives. Will someone else be able to decide that my life is not worth living? CCD believes that Canadians with disabilities must be afforded equal protection of the law. To reduce the mandatory sentence for second degree murder because the victim was disabled is to say our lives are of less value than others. This is not equal protection of the law.

During the protracted debate around this case, CCD has twice been told by other parents that they are watching the Latimer case closely to see if he gets off. If he does they plan to do the same and kill their disabled child. The conviction is a deterrent, but a conviction with a minor sentence is no deterrent. Canadians with disabilities believe that sentencing must ensure a deterrent exists, to do otherwise is to refuse to recognize us as full citizens.

This case is extremely sad, but let us not be blinded by emotion to the principles that we hold dear. Every Canadian deserves equal protection and benefit of the law. To do otherwise is to establish lesser classes of citizenship. Once we have done so, who will be next?

The Misery Latimer Ended Was His Own

by Tom Braid

(Edmonton Sun Chief Photographer Tom Braid's son has a severe case of cerebral palsy due to brain damage that happened at birth, the cause of which is unknown. Nicholas, who will be four years old on 27 December, is at the developmental stage of a three-month-old baby and struggles daily just to survive. He needs around-the-clock care and has little hope of ever getting better.)

"Hey, Tom. What do you think of that Latimer situation?" Anybody who knows me is aware that I have a son every bit as disabled as Tracy was, so this is a question that's been asked of me a lot over the last week.

More than 75 percent of the people were surprised by my answer.

Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder last week and will be sentenced Thursday. I believe an even more serious conviction was in order.

Think about it: He picked his defenseless daughter up, carried her into his truck, put a tube in the window, started the engine, stood back—and watched her die. He then carried her dead body back to her crib and called emergency crews to say his daughter had died in her sleep.

In his dreams. The only person he put out of misery was himself. He couldn't take it any more—the pain, the suffering, the anguish, the day-to-day bad news of just how terrible and miserable his daughter's life really was.

For this, I feel truly sorry for him. We all should.

For what he did, we should not.

This is not the SPCA! He put his daughter down, it's as simple as that. She was not a farm animal, she was a severely disabled little girl. Most would consider her a freak of nature, one who didn't have a chance from the second she was born. But does this give a man the right to kill? She needed proper care, and the parents needed a break from that unbearable stress.

I would be lying if I told you that the thought didn't cross my mind to end my son's suffering. How many people out there have not been driven crazy from a child crying at a grocery checkout, or a teething baby late at night?

My son, Nicholas, cried, screamed, puked, went into seizures, stopped breathing and was rushed to hospital so many times we are on a first name basis with the staff. He would stay up for hours on end and he did not sleep through the night once for over two years. I would get to the point where I would pray for him just to die and get it over with. I would have to get my wife to take him away from me before I did something terrible. Would anybody blame me if I did?

But who would I have put out of misery—my son or myself? Think about it.

The polls show around 75 percent of Canadians believe in the "concept of people having the right to die", but do Canadians believe in people having the right to kill? I think no.

If a person wants to take their own life that's one thing. I can guarantee you that Tracy never said, "Dad, put me out of my misery." It was not her choice.

If the rules change and you are allowed to put people out of their "misery," where will it start and where will it end? Who gets to make the call. Let's play God, shall we.

(Tom Braid's article was originally published in the Edmonton Sun and is reprinted with the permission of the Edmonton Sun.)