In 1993 the Saskatchewan farmer, Robert Latimer, killed his severely disabled pain-wracked daughter, 12-year old Tracy, by running a hose from the exhaust pipe to the cab of his truck where she sat.
He was convicted of second-degree murder and the judge, following the jury’s recommendation, sentenced him to one year in prison. The Crown appealed the sentence and the Supreme Court upheld a sentence of 10 years because the original judge had not followed the sentencing guidelines.
At the time the case provoked an enormous debate among Canadians about mercy killing. Some disability rights acitivists described Mr. Latimer’s killing of Tracy as a hate crime, called him a “remorseless killer” and argued that if he were not severely punished society would have declared “open season on the disabled.”
Others said Latimer killed his daughter not because of her pain but because of his own in caring for her. Some of Tracy’s teachers said she was able to take pleasure in small things and she recognized family members and liked being gently rocked by her parents. Obviously Tracy did not give consent to her own death.
But probably most Canadians agreed with the jury that this was a crime of compassion and that Robert Latimer acted not out of selfish motives but purely to end what he perceived as his daughter’s intolerable suffering. Although the Supreme Court rejected Mr. Latimer’s appeal on legal grounds, it also agreed this was a crime of compassion.
Mr. Latimer has now served seven years in prison and he became eligible for day parole. He appeared yesterday before the parole board in British Columbia. After an 80 minute hearing the board rejected his application. He will not be able to make another application for parole before another two years. Incidentally, disability organizations did not oppose Latimer’s application for parole.
Why did the parole board rule against him? They said that even after seven years behind bars, Robert Latimer had no real “insight” into his behaviour at the time of the killing or subsequently.
When the board asked him whether he would ever offend in this way again he did not say no. He said instead that it was unlikely that such a situation would occur again.
It seems to me what the parole board was looking for was any sign of remorse on Latimer’s part. He gave none.
According to the Globe and Mail, Robert Latimer is the only person in Canadian history to spend even a single day in a federal prison for mercy killing.
Do you think the parole board was justified in rejecting Latimer’s bid for day parole?
Do you think sentencing guidelines should be more lenient for crimes of compassion?
Do you think mercy killing is ever justified?