A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities

(18 November 1999) — This new book on the Latimer case is the first to be written by a woman with disabilities, resulting from polio and glaucoma; so the perspective offered is unique and challenges the ableist assumptions presented by most mainstream treatments of this case. The 176 page work is based upon analysis of court documents, media material, and extensive interviews with disability activists from across Canada. Unlike most pieces on the Latimer case, Tracy's situation is interpreted for the public by people with an in-depth knowledge of what it is like to live one's day-to-day life with a disability. The book is dedicated to, "...all the Tracy Latimers who must cope with misunderstanding and abuse from those on whom they depend for the necessities of life."

While doing her research, Ruth Enns spoke with key leaders in the disability rights movement such as: Jim Derksen, Allan Simpson, Eric Norman, Georgina Heselton, David Martin, Pat Sisco, Pat Danforth, Cateland Penner. To complement the disability rights viewpoint, Enns also included the legal perspective by discussing the case with Greg Brodsky, Grant MitchelL, QC, and Bob Richards, CCD's legal counsel. Enns also consulted the CCD files on the Latimer case and reviewed the legal material presented to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal by CCD and the other disability intervenors in this case. Unlike many authors who have taken up the Latimer case, Enns did not ignore the perspective of the disability rights movement.

In A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People With Disabilities, Enns takes a fresh look at the evidence in the case from the perspective of Tracy Latimer, the "voice unheard." In her analysis, the author is not afraid to hold and defend unconventional views, views that go against the tide of established opinion on the issues raised by the case. Evidence heard in court and public discussion, both of which virtually ignored the many other Canadians living with disabilities, shows clearly that this case was not about pain and suffering but about disability. The defense, public opinion and media reports of the case all demonstrated a shallow understanding of living with disabilities; something many other "unheard" Canadians know very well.

In order for the ramifications of the Latimer case to be understood by the public, Enns moves beyond the circumstances of the case, itself, and presents an overview of the history of how people with disabilities shunned the role of patients and became social activists demanding equality and human rights. Enns sketches out the development of the provincial, national and international consumer movements.

As many members of the general public are unacquainted with the day-to-day consequences of disability, Enns provides the stories of four individuals with disabilities and two families where disability is present. Enns shares the life stories of Mike Rosner who has a neuro-muscular disorder; the Stewart family in which Brian, the dad, has Cerebral Palsy and three of his "chosen' children have the same disability; Pat Sisco who had polio as a baby; Cateland Penner, a mom, with Cerebral Palsy, the Simpson family where both parents have disabilities, and David Martin who uses a respirator to assist him breathe. Each story serves as testimony to the fact that there were viable alternatives to the option that Robert Latimer chose for his daughter, Tracy.

Under different circumstances, Tracy could have found herself living in the community assisted by technology and other people to lead a happy and fulfilling life, just as has been the case for Mike Rosner, Brian Stewart, Cateland Penner, David Martin, and Clare and Allan Simpson. And for that matter, Ruth Enns, herself. In her dedication, Enns acknowledges the positive role that her own parents played in her life stating, "My parents have my admiration and respect for their faith, imagination and perseverance in caring for both me and my late sister, Leona, in the best and worst of times."

Ruth Enns grew up in a farming village in Manitoba. As the middle child of a farm couple who raised primarily grain, Enns is no stranger to the rural prairie life of her subject Tracy Latimer. Rural Manitoba continues to be where Enns calls home. Prior to becoming a freelance writer, Enns was a teacher in the Manitoba school system. Enns was involved briefly with the Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities in its early years.

Cover art for the book was produced by Manitoban Alexandra Michaels, who has Cerebral Palsy which limits her motor functions. Michaels creates her graphic art using a 1969 electric typewriter with a black and red reel-to-reel ribbon. Using this unique medium she poignantly comments on the world from her vantage point.

A Voice Unheard: The Latimer Case and People with Disabilities ($17.95) is published by Fernwood Press. Fernwood Publishing, established in 1991, aims to publish critical works which break new ground and challenge existing norms. In addition to the standard print edition of the book, consumers can also take advantage of the alternate media versions of the book which are also available from Fernwood Press: an electronic format of the book in HTML and a large print photocopy version. Fernwood Press can be contacted at: Box 9409, Stn. A., Halifax NS, B3K 5S3. Tel: (902) 422-3302, Fax: (902) 422-3179, email: customerservice@broadviewpress.com , and on the World Wide Web at http://www.fernwoodbooks.ca/.

Latimer Case at Supreme Court, Again...

The Latimer case is once again before the Supreme Court. This will be Robert Latimer's second appeal to the Supreme Court. There have also been two unsuccessful appeals heard in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal.

CCD, along with the Saskatchwan Voice of People with Disabilities, the DisAbled Women's Network Canada, People First, Canadian Association for Community Living, and People in Equal Participation have applied for intervenor status in this case. Bob Richards serves as legal counsel for the joint intervention.

Because a constitutional question is being considered by the Supreme Court, governments can seek intervenor status and it is granted to them automatically.