Appeal May Put People At Greater Risk

(19 May 2000 — This article is reprinted from SACL Dialect, Spring 2000.)

For many Canadians with disabilities, the facts are clear: their very existence will be debated in the Supreme Court of Canada June 14. The Robert Latimer appeal will not only argue that the Saskatchewan farmer was justified in deliberately killing his 12-year old daughter, but that anyone who commits a similar murder should receive a softer sentence. For many Canadians with disabilities this case is not about compassion or the right to die, or how the value of life is determined, but rather it is about whether somebody has the right to kill them.

The CACL has argued since Tracy's murder in 1993 that her death should be treated like any other murder. There is no room in law for consideration of "compassion or necessity" as a motive or as justification for a lenient sentence. The creation of a third category of murder which carries a lesser penalty would make a mockery of the lives of thousands of Canadians who could be seen in need of such "compassion."

"Tracy Latimer did not ask to be killed," says Cheryl Gulliver of Nova Scotia, a parent of a child with a disability, and CACL President. "If a person is not capable of expressing their own choices, then nobody else has the right, whether it is a parent, guardian, caregiver or the Supreme Court, to choose death for them. Tracy's father said he planned to kill her. He put her in a truck, hooked up a hose so she would inhale carbon monoxide, and then watched her die. He said if she had cried, he would have taken her out. Perhaps Tracy wanted to be a good girl; perhaps she was happy to be going for a ride with her daddy. Robert Latimer chose death for his daughter. Tracy's disability was not unique. The fact that her father murdered her is unique."

Judith Snow of Toronto has significant disabilities. In 1988, she had similar but more extensive surgery than what was scheduled for Tracy Latimer, the operation Latimer and his lawyer have called inhumane. The surgery, Snow says, worked and was well worth any risk.

"I can understand if someone decided on Tracy's behalf to have the surgery done in order to try to relieve her pain," says Snow. "I can understand if someone decided on Tracy's behalf to refuse the surgery on the grounds that the risks were too great. I like the second decision less, but I can see how someone could go there. Many human beings live their lives in pain. What is unsupportable to me," she says, "is Robert Latimer deciding not yes or no, but not ever. How can any human being justify killing another on the grounds that their future is first, known with certainty and second so bleak that life is worthless?"

Many parents fear what might happen if the law is changed and parents who may feel isolated and depressed about their situation see no other solution.

"The more people we have invited into our lives, the more we have benefited," says Barb Horner, a parent from Nova Scotia. "We have watched people fall in love with Mallory and truly value her the way we do. When we make medical decisions regarding her long-term health and well being, we've learned how critical it is to have support through this process. It's a horrendous responsibility for any parent and shouldn't be done in isolation. It is because of Mallory's daily challenges, and the things she physically cannot do, which make her an extraordinary human being because she still wakes up every day full of laughter, determination and enthusiasm about the life she has."

Both trials resulted in convictions of second degree murder for Latimer. Tracy was characterized almost solely in terms of her needs and deficits and her positive attributes and disposition were ignored. In reviewing trial transcripts and media interviews, it becomes clear Tracy was the one on trial. In order to defend the man who killed her, she was put on trial as a non-human whose pain and disabilities somehow disqualified her from not only citizenship, but life itself.

The CACL and others will intervene during the appeal. They will give voice not only to Tracy and others like her who were killed by parents and caregivers in the wake of the Latimer murder, but to thousands of already vulnerable people put in further jeopardy by this case and its possible outcome. Information on this issue can be found at [now]. You can join a list-serve at

The CACL urges ACLs to speak out as the appeal draws near.

About CACL

The Canadian Association for Community Living is one of the organizations in the coalition of disability organizations intervening in Latimer's appeal to the Supreme Court.

CACL is a national advocacy federation of 10 provincial, two territorial and hundreds of local associations for families, individuals with intellectual disabilities and friends who promote the inclusion and equality of each individual as a valued citizen and that individuals with intellectual disabilities are respected as active participants in all aspects of Canadian life.

CACL has argued since Tracy's 1993 death that her killing should be treated like any other murder; there is room in law for consideration of "compassion or necessity" as a motive or as justification for a lenient sentence. The creation of a third category of murder, with a lesser penalty, would make a mockery of the lives of thousands of Canadians who could be seen in need of such "compassion". All Canadians must be afforded with equal benefit and equal protection of Canadian law and citizenship.