SHOULD ROBERT LATIMER BE FREE?

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?

25 Comments »

  1. 1
    Joe Agnost Says:

    It disgusts me deeply that he was denied parole… He didn’t deserve jail time in the first place in my opinion. This is a travesty.

    “Do you think mercy killing is ever justified?”

    Yes. Latimer’s case is a prime example.

  2. 2
    Chimera Says:

    I’m 100% with Joe on this.

    It never ceases to amaze me that we are “kind” to animals who are suffering when we kill them to put an end to their misery, but we are “stealing joy” from people under the same conditions. The only people I know of who find joy in suffering are masochists and sadists.

    But there are slants and pieces of “information” in this story for which I also have questions. I don’t think any press agency ever got it completely right, because they kept taking opinions as facts — and from people who really should have had no legal standing to give expert opinions on things for which they were not experts.

    Tracy’s “teachers” are a prime example. Teachers? What was it she was learning? Could she learn? What were they teaching? And how qualified were they to say that she ever felt any pleasure in anything? Are they saying that because they saw her smile? She was a mental infant! Infants “smile” when they have gas pains!

    And how can anyone be so sure that she could not or did not consent to her own death?

    The parole board ruled against Robert because they wanted to see him become a hypocrite and he refused. He told them the truth. They wanted to hear him lie. He had real insight, just not the specific insight they wanted him to have. Bastards.

    Disability organizations are beginning to realize that one incident does not a trend make. Robert killed Tracy to end her pain, not make war against a growing population. He loved her. He doesn’t love them. It’ll never happen again.

    When he gets out of prison, someone should nominate him to run for Parliament. I’d vote for him.

  3. 3
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “someone should nominate him to run for Parliament. I’d vote for him.”

    So would I! A kind and honest man if there ever was one! And principled too considering his behavior at his parole hearing.

    I wish there was a petition I could sign to get him released… I think I’ll look online – starting at http://www.robertlatimer.net

  4. 4

    Joe:

    Thanks for the reference to the Robert Latimer site.

    Chimera:

    If Tracy was a “mental infant”, which I agree she was, it is difficult to see how she could have given informed consent to her own death.

  5. 5
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “If Tracy was a ‘mental infant’, which I agree she was, it is difficult to see how she could have given informed consent to her own death.”

    I think she was pointing out the contradiction of the Latimer critics – on one hand saying she enjoyed bowling and lemon cake, and on the other saying she couldn’t consent to her death. It can’t be both!!

    I agree – she didn’t bowl, she had the mental capacity of a 4 month old, she didn’t enjoy lemon cake (she couldn’t even eat properly! How does cake taste through a tube anyway?), and couldn’t have given consent to her own death.

    I still stand behind Latimer and his decision.

  6. 6
    Cate McB Says:

    This am the Globe & Mail started one of their polls — this time asking,”Do you agree with the National Parole Board’s decision to keep Robert Latimer in prison?”

    As of this moment, 1797 persons (17%) have said yes and
    8986 persons (83%) have said no.

    My vote certainly went with the no side. Before the Conservative government (Mulroney’s I think) dismantled the Canadian Law Reform Commission, it issued a paper that proposed third-degree murder for these sorts of cases. All this has been followed by what one major health-law professor has called “Egregious Inaction.”

    To make Latimer a scape-goat for this inaction and the medical profession’s inability still to make major advances in pain control is unbelievably unfair. He should be released today!

  7. 7
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    I agree Robert Latimer should have been let out on parole. Even the supreme Court recognized it was a compassion murder, but legally a murder nonetheless. Put it another way: it is euthanasia. In such a matter what is acceptable and what is not? Out of the legal question we step into ethical questions. That is my conundrum. Just as I am thorn by abortion so am I with euthanasia. Where do you draw the line?
    I have every compassion for the whole Latimer family. Robert made a choice and he assumes it. Would I have done the very same thing had I been in his shoes? I don’t know. As the saying goes among our Indigenous peoples: “Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccassins”. That is what our present laws do not allow and the Liberation Commission did not consider.

  8. 8
    John Says:

    It was always my belief that the questions about remorse and reoffending were directly tied to the question of public safety. To think for a minute that the public’s safety is being well served by keeping this man in prison is, as Joe says, an absolute “travesty.”

    There should be a torrent of public outrage, yet I don’t see it. Surely to heavens, even those who felt he should go to prison in the first place for what he did can see no reason for keeping him there after 7 years.

  9. 9
    SUZANNE Says:

    Does anyone even care that Tracy Latimer’s inalienable right to life was taken away from her?

    The parole board ruled against Robert because they wanted to see him become a hypocrite and he refused. He told them the truth. They wanted to hear him lie. He had real insight, just not the specific insight they wanted him to have. Bastards.

    You know that for sure, huh? Like you know the people on the Parole Board, and you are sure of their motives?

    Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he didn’t seem to take the process very seriously.

    I don’t know if any disabilities group opposed his parole, but many were glad he didn’t get it…

    “We’re pleased with the decision,” said Rory Summers, president of the B.C. Association for Community Living, which supports people with development disabilities.

    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story.html?id=146625

    What I hear from this is that disabled people don’t matter. People’s own fears of suffering are projected onto Tracy Latimer and through false compassion they judge Robert to be a hero.

  10. 10
    John Says:

    Suzanne, I don’t understand how granting parole to Robert Latimer at this point is an indication that disabled people don’t matter.

    Do you feel Latimer will miraculously have a different understanding of what he did after 10 years that he doesn’t now have after serving 7.

    That he will speak a different message then, that he’s not now?

    That 7 years for this kind of act is not enough of a message/deterrent for others?

    Do you think that having him serve a 7 rather than 10 year prison term is some form of after the fact approval of what he did?

    I don’t get it?

    I see no point in keeping this man in prison.

  11. 11
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “I don’t get it? I see no point in keeping this man in prison.”

    I agree.

    Reading Suzanne’s comments on this issue (on her blog at http://www.bigbluewave.ca) – I think she doesn’t want to look at the specifics of THIS case. To her – an innocent life was taken and the man that took that life (robert) should PAY as much as possible.

    I think it’s ‘an eye for an eye’ mentality…

  12. 12
    Chimera Says:

    “Does anyone even care that Tracy Latimer’s inalienable right to life was taken away from her?”

    Do YOU not even care that she was in constant pain, and that forcing her to remain alive was a very real form of torture? Oh, by all means, keep her alive so she can feel even more pain! I have you down as a sadist.

    “Like you know the people on the Parole Board, and you are sure of their motives?”

    That’s a two-part question, and, as sarcastic as it was meant, the answer to both parts is yes. I do know one person on the board, and their motives were explained in all the papers.

    Disability groups did not oppose the possibility of his parole. They have come to learn that this was not a hate crime against a group. This was one man making the final decision to end his daughter’s torture-by-government-decree!

    Neil: I didn’t use the term “informed consent.” That’s a legal term, and only legally qualified adults are entitled to it. Even if she hadn’t been mentally handicapped, Tracy had no right to “informed consent” because she was not a qualified adult.

    My point was that no one knows what she was thinking, or even if she was able to think. All those people who spoke “on her behalf” were at least projecting their own feelings and fears into the child at best, and liars at worst. Nobody knows. How could anyone dare to presume so much?

    For all we know, she might very well have been screaming for someone to put an end to her misery. We’ll never know that for sure, either, will we?

    I’ve come to the tentative conclusion that a lot of this, and other, emotion-packed to-ing and fro-ing comes from the fact that most people are scared to death of death. They have no idea that it is either necessary or beneficial. They absolutely do not want to know that it is a natural part of life. And they frantically don’t want anyone else to know it, either.

  13. 13
    John Says:

    I’m sorry.
    I still don’t get it.
    Well meaning folks get “their panties in a bunch” (as Chimera so aptly put it) over some fantasy movie.
    Politicians get themselves into a flap over someone in a bikini, while this guy gets shoved back into prison without hardly a sound from anyone.
    Just incredible. Mind-blowing really. And sad.

  14. 14
    John Says:

    Here is an online Free Robert Latimer petition. I hope those who feel inclined will add their name. Only takes a second.
    http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/free-robert-latimer.html

  15. 15
    Patty Atkinson Says:

    I can not believe how this loving father is being treated. This is a clear example of a few people, with a lot of power, exerting it just because they can. What is happening to Robert Latimer is strictly to make a point to the public. The point has long since been made!! This man has suffered enough. He is definitely no threat to anyone else. We have gang members, perverts, and others who are definitely a huge threat to the safety and well-being of others who are walking free after a very short time. Robert has served a very long time considering he is no threat to anyone. Free the man!!

  16. 16

    Patty:

    Thank you for your comment. I could not agree more. I signed a petition to free Latimer recently. He has served enough time.

  17. 17
    Carol Wodak Says:

    Suzanne: I took the trouble (not much) to ask for a copy of the NPB Decision. Yes, it does say that Robert Latimer’s refusal to say what he did was wrong was the only reason for denying him day parole. ALL the psychiatric/institutional/Case Manangement/actuarial reports on Latimer concluded no risk of reoffending.
    8 of the 9 trial decisions (and yes, I’ve read them all 8, but I can’t findthe first trial online) say that he is not a danger to society – to the point of the unusual decision to grant bail after the first trial, pending the appeal.
    The NPB did a number on Mr. Latimer. They substituted their own opinions for the those of the experts who wrote the reports; they contradicted the trial court decision conclusions about what happened and why, and the “risk” Mr. Latimer did not represent to the community; they ignored the options open to them to ask for a reassessment of the supervision conditions and release plans; and they paid no attention to the first principle of a “Quality Decision” (according to the NPB’s Policy Manual) which is “least restrictive determination”.
    The decision included the inane implication that Mr. Latimer would find himself in the same situation again – and that this was the “high risk” for reoffending that justified the denial of day parole.
    I hope Mr. Latimer is able to appeal to the National Parole Board appeal Division – with legal representation – to challenge all the errors and irrationality of the decision.
    Carol Wodak

  18. 18

    Carol:

    A very informative analysis. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  19. 19
    Jacqui Hanna-Bourne Says:

    I certainly feel that Mr. Latimer should be released. The fact that he had to serve 7 years already is absolutely wrong. There are people out there who commit 1st. degree Murder and then are released before anyone knows about it. The judges really need to clean up their act. Should Mr. Latimer have to admit that he did something wrong in order to get out of prison. I certainly don’t think so.

  20. 20
    Sandy Says:

    I think the parole board was justified in rejecting latimers bid for day parole because he was unremorseful for his crime and he did not say that he would not re-offend.

    Although Latimer did what he thought was right society today should not justify his actions on the bases of Compassion. I think that Society as a whole should not condone his actions because he ultimately committed the highest crime and that is murder.

    I think sentencing guidelines should not be more lenient for crimes of compassion. Taking someone’s life away is a serious crime that certainly cannot be morally justified.

    I am morally outraged by this decision because the court is sending out a message loud and clear that the lives of persons with intellectual or physical disabilities are not as valuable. In addition to this the courts decisions will affect similar court cases in the future and I certainly do not condone the killing of innocent lives on the basis of mercy.

    For these reasons, I am appalled by the courts decision to release Latimer. However, Latimer did have his reasons and I am not the one to judge. Instead of complaining about the whole situation; one thing I can do is to forgive and not forget but initiate change so this will not happen again.

  21. 21
    Joe Agnost Says:

    “Taking someone’s life away is a serious crime that certainly cannot be morally justified.”

    Morals are subjective. You may think that Latimer was morally wrong but I do not. I think he did the most compassionate thing – something which was NOT easy and will likely be difficult to live with (but still right by Tracy).

    “I am morally outraged by this decision because the court is sending out a message loud and clear that the lives of persons with intellectual or physical disabilities are not as valuable.”

    Yeah – that’s the message that’s going out here: ‘kill your disabled family member and spend ONLY 7 years in prison!’ (roll eyes).

    Oh – and where did you get “intellectual” disabilities from?? Don’t let facts or truth get in the way of you moral outrage!

    Get real!

  22. 22
    Chimera Says:

    “…he was unremorseful for his crime and he did not say that he would not re-offend.”

    Of course he was unremorseful. He acted from love. Why would he regret it? Why would he lie to satisfy the sadistic pleasures of those who sought to suppress him?

    He did not say he would do it to anyone else. He called the question stupid. And it was.

    “…the lives of persons with intellectual or physical disabilities are not as valuable.”

    Would you care to define your version of “value” in this particular case? How were Tracy’s disabilities of value to her (or anyone else), except to cause her enormous pain and suffering? How does her being born human instead of some other type of animal force her to live a life in agony, rather than grant her a merciful death? Or does mercy not figure in your equation for someone else’s quality of life?

    Keep in mind that this was not a crime against disabilities or disabled people — no one is in any danger from Robert Latimer.

    “…one thing I can do is to forgive and not forget…”

    If you don’t forget, you don’t forgive, either. You cannot forgive without forgetting and putting it behind you. But that’s okay…it’s not your province to forgive, either. Nothing was done to you. And you don’t get to be “morally outraged,” either.

  23. 23
    andry Says:

    8LoZ4l comment4 ,

  24. 24
    Vanessa Says:

    Yes he should be.

    I personally think that these disability groups have no right to speak for Tracy, seeing as how disabled she was. Her teachers are fucking clueless because they did not recgonize the pain she was in, and assumed Robert killed her out of cold blood just because she smiled.

    Robert did the right thing by ending her suffering.

  25. 25
    Toni Graillon Says:

    I am outraged in this day and age the killing of a handicapped person is taken so lightly!!I was the mother of 13 year old handicapped boy,who sadly died of natural causes at the age of 13.If the disability groups have no rights to speak up for these children who do?Robert Latemeir took his childs life wheter she was special needs or not that is murder!You all call it a killing of compasion but i dont see it that way at all!If Roberts life was so hard,taking care of this beautiflu child he had other choices!He could have put her in an istitution or taken advantages of other services to the parents of special needs kids!He is a murderer plain and simple and you people belonging to his bleeding hearts club need to see thru Traceys eyes what he did she didnt chose to die and expecially not be killed by a man she trusted and loved!!In my opinion he should have taken his own life and let this child live!!Karmas a bitch Robert and i hope she bites you hard!!I am very angry that the media and courts have now decided that handicapped people are less worthy than”normal” people and i and very upset you are paroled!You and your wife have to live with the choices you have made and I hope you live a very miserable life!


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