Coalition of People with Disabilities Seek Intervenor Status in Latimer Appeal

(4 June 1998) — On 19 May 1998, six major organizations of Canadians with disabilities and their families approached the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal today to seek intervenor status in the appeal of Robert Latimer's second degree murder conviction and the sentence imposed. The organizations are: Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), DisAbled Women's Network Canada (DAWN Canada), People for Equal Participation (PEP), People First of Canada, and Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities (Sask. Voice). CCD, PEP, and the Saskatchewan Voice appeared as intervenors during Latimer's first appeal.

"This case is very important to Canadians with disabilities," said Hugh Scher, CCD's Human Rights Committee chair. "The central issue is the rights of persons with disabilities to equal protection of the law. The decision of the Trial Judge put persons with disabilities at risk by not imposing the mandatory sentence for second degree murder," said Scher, a Toronto lawyer with a disability. Theresa Ducharme, Chairperson of PEP asked, "Is my life worth less simply because I have a disability? Is my disability a reason for diminishing the protection I'm given by the law?"

"Robert Latimer has shown no remorse for his actions. In fact, he claims he had the right to kill his daughter. Since when did it become permissible for parents to murder their children? If Tracy did not have a disability, her murder and the lesser sentence given Mr. Latimer would have outraged the public," stated Bruce Uditsky of CACL.

"Robert Latimer says his sentence is "cruel and unusual." However, the sentence given him for murdering his daughter puts at risk the lives of other people with disabilities, particularly those who cannot speak for themselves," said Gordon Fletcher of People First of Canada.

"This case has generated huge mis-conceptions about people with disabilities. Yes, pain can be a part of disability, however, it is seldom continual. The media has portrayed Tracy as trapped by a body constantly in pain rather than seeing her as a vibrant girl who could enjoy and partake in life," said Nora Bednarski of DAWN Canada.

"In Saskatchewan, people with disabilities have borne the backlash of this case. This case offends our basic human rights and our dignity," said Pat Danforth, member of the Saskatchewan Voice.

The Coalition seeks to ensure that the voice of people with disabilities is heard by the Court of Appeal and is not lost as it was during the trial.

Why the Community Should Be Heard

The community presented to the Court the following reasons why intervenor status should be granted:

  • The arguments that Latimer and the Crown intend to raise in the Appeal have the most serious possible implications for people with disabilities. The legal reasoning which Mr. Latimer invites the Court to adopt will put at risk the health and safety of numerous people with disabilities.
  • Only persons with disabilities or those who represent us can properly articulate the interests of the community of persons with disabilities.
  • The community will provide related legal arguments that will assist the Court. In these arguments, the community will rely upon sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.
  • Our Affidavit states that, "...the submissions of Mr. Latimer must be considered against the backdrop of those sections [7 and 15] and that those provisions preclude many of the arguments he seeks to advance. For instance, allowing Mr. Latimer "to commit suicide for his daughter" would deny the protection that section 15 offers to persons with disabilities. Similarly, a finding that the application of a minimum sentence "on the fact of this case" is cruel and unusual punishment cannot be reconciled with section 15 of the Charter in that it involves reading the law so as to afford less protection to persons with disabilities than other persons. With respect to section 7 of the Charter, the Applicants will present arguments to the effect that section 7 precludes many of Mr. Latimer's arguments because they effectively involve a denial of either life or security of the person."
  • The community will also explain to the court that Tracy's pain and disability were not separate matters. The Trial Judge attempted to make a distinction between Tracy's disability and her pain. We will also explain the dangers inherent in any situation where "a third party assumes that he or she can assess a disabled individual's quality of life."
  • The community will also address Latimer's section 12 ("cruel and unusual treatment or punishment ") argument. We will rebut the "perception that the gravity of Mr. Latimer's offense is diminished because of the fact that his daughter Tracy was a child with disabilities."
  • The community will also counter grounds presented in Mr. Latimer's Notice of Appeal.

Ground 1 (necessity): Mr. Latimer's actions do not satisfy the defense of necessity, which is restricted to "urgent situations of clear and imminent peril."

Ground 2 (requiring the jury to be told of minimum punishment): The Judge was correct in not informing the jury of the minimum punishment; because it is important that jury deliberations not be influenced by consideration of the minimum penalty.

Ground 5 (failing to instruct the jury to decide the case on what they felt was just): The Trial Judge acted correctly. "The approach advocated by Mr. Latimer is effectively an invitation to endorse arbitrariness and legal anarchy."

Ground 6 (not charging the jury that Mr. Latimer could commit suicide for his daughter): "This argument involves no principle known to law. It reflects fundamental dehumanization of persons with disabilities."

Ground 7 (appropriateness of the sentence): "Mr. Latimer planned the death of his daughter and killed her. She had no voice in the matter. His sentence in light of all the facts was inappropriately lenient. A sentence of less than the minimum prescribed by the Criminal Code denied Tracy Latimer, and other Canadian with disabilities, equal protection of the law."