Concerned Citizens Speak Out

(5 December 1997) — In this Latimer Watch, CCD is sharing the reasons that citizens are presenting to the Hon. John Nilson, Attorney General of Saskatchewan, to support an appeal of the sentence that the court handed down to Robert Latimer on 1 December 1997.

D. Sobsey's Case for An Appeal

There is currently strong evidence that children with disabilities are much more frequently victims of crime than other children. For example, they have been shown to be more than twice as likely to be physically abused and almost twice as likely to be sexually abused. These children are obviously some of Canada's most vulnerable citizens.

There is also clear evidence of discrimination in sentencing. Crimes against people with disabilities result in less severe sentences, even when the defense of "compassion" or "unbearable parental stress" is unavailable.

Since one of the functions of criminal penalties is to deter future crimes, this discrimination results in lesser protection for the lives and persons of Canadians with disabilities. Equal protection of the law is a fundamental right.

In the particular case at hand, giving the minimum penalty for second degree murder (especially when the crime was clearly described by the perpetrator as having been intentional, planned, and deliberate) already constituted unusual flexibility in sentencing. Reducing the penalty to a tiny fraction of the minimum is unreasonable.

The granting of a constitutional exemption based on motivation is particularly problematic since there was no direct evidence of motivation presented to the court. Mr. Latimer chose to preserve his right to protection against self-incrimination by refusing to testify. Any other indication of motivation is hearsay or circumstantial and not subject to cross-examination. This sets a frightening precedent for future trials in that Justice Noble suggests that there is a burden of proof on the prosecution not only to prove the facts but also prove motivation.

A higher court previously denied the same exemption, therefore, the granting of that exemption by a lower court should be reviewed by a higher court.

The Judge's reliance on four cases of "compassionate homicide" that resulted in lighter sentences is inappropriate. None of these involved a murder conviction. It is unclear whether plea bargains to lesser offenses were the result of a failure of the prosecution to pursue more serious charges or whether convictions on more serious charges would have been difficult for a variety of reasons.

While Justice Noble seems to suggest that his exemption in this case is unique and irrelevant to others, he, in fact, disputes his own point by drawing parallels between this case and four other "compassionate homicides." He determines that this case should have a lighter penalty because he believes that it is similar to these four other cases, and all four cases that he chooses are homicides committed against people with illnesses and disabilities. In doing so, he defines a class of Canadian citizens and adds Tracy Latimer and all others with similar disabilities to that class. He suggests the killing of Tracy Latimer is trivial compared with killing a healthy, able-bodied person, and tells us to excuse it because of precedents of people who committed similar offenses before and received little or no penalty. By extension, the next person who kills a child like Tracy Latimer will be able to point to Justice Noble's precedent. It is impossible to extend this argument from previous cases to the present one without extending it from this case to the next one. Since there are thousands of Canadians with disabilities as severe as Tracy Latimer's they are all affected by this exclusion and their rights must be weighed against Mr. Latimer's before an exemption is given. The court may determine that Mr. Latimer's right to a kinder sentence is more important than the rights of thousands of Canadians with disabilities to equal protection of the law, but it must not simply disregard those rights by failing to consider them entirely.

O. Endicott's Case for An Appeal

...Judge Noble's granting of a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence demanded in the Criminal Code of Canada deserves the review of your Province's Court of Appeal. Never before has such an exemption been granted in relation to such a serious crime as murder. Although Judge Noble stressed that he had decided Latimer's sentence solely on the evidence in the case, the constitutional exemption represents a far-reaching departure from the standards established by Parliament. No matter how wise and courageous some people may think his Lordship's decision was, it simply cannot be left to a single judge to create a legal precedent of this magnitude.

Mary Reid's Analysis

Despite Justice Noble's statement, this case was most definitely about disability. Had Tracy not had a disability, the trial and all related proceedings and public coverage could not have unfolded as they did. Mr. Latimer may have believed his daughter's pain was unremitting, but such can not be construed as a defense for murder; neither can this be appropriate grounds for a constitutional exemption for sentencing. The swell of public sympathy for R. Latimer is based on discrimination and prejudice. I believe the judicial system must remain above such ignorance.

Concerned Nurses for Patients Rights, Informed Consent, Ethics (PRICE) Speak Out

The very light sentence given Mr. Latimer for killing his disabled daughter must be challenged in the name of ALL citizens. This mere "slap-on-the-wrist" leaves a devastating message to: All citizens who will re-classify the disabled as not deserving fundamental rights...Justice Noble has given the citizens a new term...compassionate homicide, a very good cover-up for another future premeditated murder down the road...As a nurse and a parent of a disabled child, I have experienced this attitude already!...The courts must correct this sentence in order to give justice to Tracy Latimer. Cecila von Dehn for PRICE.