Justice for Tracy Latimer: CACL Speaks Out

(21 November, 1997) Halifax—Members of the Canadian Association for Community Living, a national advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring the rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities, strongly support the decision of Mr. Justice G. E. (Ted) Noble, in finding Robert Latimer guilty of murdering his daughter, Tracy.

"We do not underestimate the difficulties parents and families across this country face in attempting to ensure that their sons and daughters with disabilities have rights, opportunities and an acceptable quality of life," said Julie Stone, President of the Canadian Association for Community Living. However, Robert Latimer clearly murdered his daughter, without her consent. We cannot condone the murder of individuals with disabilities under any circumstances. To do so would create a dangerous precedent. Tracy, a young disabled person, became a victim, at the hands of her father. We cannot allow other individuals with disabilities to be at similar risk.

Nor does the Association support the creation of a new category of criminal offense in Canada—a suggestion by some that "third degree" or "compassionate murder" be established. "To somehow suggest that an individual's motives in carrying out murder should lessen the seriousness of the crime does nothing more than devalue the lives of individuals with disabilities."

"Parents of children with disabilities have no right to decide to kill their children," said Ann West, Chair of CACL's Self Advocate Advisory Committee. "If a parent killed a child without a disability, would people feel differently about this?"

Julie Stone directed the following comments directly to Solicitor General Andy Scott who attended the recent CACL Conference in Halifax: "...we do hope that you will listen to the message of our members on a very specific issue which has made the front page of most newspapers across Canada the past couple of days. I would like to take the opportunity of having you here and captive today, to voice the overwhelming fear we have as parents, advocates, and individuals with disabilities. That fear, Mr. Minister, is the fear of watching our family members, our friends, and possibly even our own selves, wait for the day that someone decides on our behalf that our lives are not worth living. Our Assembly will be discussing a resolution tomorrow which will condemn the practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide, and which will call on the government to ensure that there never be a creation of a new crime called "third degree murder" or "compassionate murder", or further, that people who murder, even under so called "compassionate" circumstances, not receive leniency in sentencing. Think about it: have you ever heard a better oxymoron than "compassionate murder"?

We urge you, Mister Minister, to give careful consideration to our position, and to continue to speak strong in support of the human rights and citizenship rights of persons with disabilities. We would ask that you present our message to your Cabinet colleagues and in your deliberations within government."

Canadians are encouraged to express their views opposing "compassionate" homicide and contact: their MP, the Minister of Justice, the Attorney General, the Prime Minister.

Sentencing Issues

by Dick Sobsey

Canadian media are giving wide coverage to the verdict in the Robert Latimer case and many are claiming that the sentence is too severe because they believe he acted on the grounds of compassion. His lawyers are attempting to go to court now to request a constitutional exemption that would allow him to be given a lesser sentence.

Did Mr. Latimer really believe that his daughter was better off dead? We can probably never know that. He very well may have believed it although the fact that mercy killing only arose after he was caught and there is very little evidence that her parents saw her as being in insufferable pain prior to death.

Whether or not he believed that killing his daughter was right, it is essential that the same law that applies to killing other children is applied in this case. In Canada, 85% of children under 14 who are murdered are killed by their own parents. Many of those parents truly believe that they have done the right thing. Some may truly believe that their child is better off dead than being gay or being an atheist or being a girl or living through a divorce or taking drugs. If Canadian society wants to endorse all these "compassionate homicides," it can choose to let all these parents off for what they do.

Personally I would be against lighter penalties for killing these children...or any other children for that matter. Saying compassion is a reason but not extending it to all these other forms of misguided compassion essentially means that lesser penalties for compassionate homicide are really a nice way of saying lesser penalties for killing children with disabilities.

Failure to provide equal protection of the law is the worst form of discrimination. People with disabilities need the same protection as everyone else. I for one take no particular joy in seeing Mr. Latimer go to jail for ten years. However, after studying crimes against people with disabilities since 1986, I believe that giving any lesser penalty will put thousands of people with disabilities in greater danger of violence and death. As a society we may choose to excuse and endorse his actions. If we do, the price will be paid in the lives of children with disabilities. I think even one would be too many.

Sentence Enhancement

While "compassionate" homicide is the new legal concept which has caught the public's attention, there are other possible legal responses to crimes, like Robert Latimer's, being discussed. Sentence enhancement is one of these.

With sentence enhancement, people who commit crimes against people with disabilities would receive a stiffer sentence than if they committed the same crime against a person without a disability. The rationale for this is that in some circumstances some people with disabilities are at greater risk than nondisabled people and that the law should seek to deter opportunistic crimes against us.

Our society generally endorses more rigid sentencing where the offender was a person in a position of trust such as teacher, care giver, police officer, etc. Certainly Robert Latimer was a person in a position of trust. He murdered his defenseless daughter.