Latimer's parole denial welcomed by disabled

  • December 13, 2007

{mosimage}OTTAWA - The decision to deny parole to Robert Latimer, who murdered his 12-year-old disabled daughter Tracey in 1993, has prompted an outpouring of sympathy for the Saskatchewan farmer.

This outpouring has sent a chill through the disabled community and alarmed anti-euthanasia groups.

“It’s a scary time to be disabled (as I am),” wrote disabled rights activist Mark Pickup Dec. 6 on his blog Human Life Matters. “Apparently it’s a disgrace to imprison the killer of a person with a disability.”

In editorials, opinion articles and letters to the editor, a groundswell of support paints Latimer as a hero of conscience who put his daughter out of her misery.

Pickup and Jim Derksen of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities are challenging the narrative portraying Tracey’s quality of life as so dismal that her father was doing her a favour by killing her.

“Her father, the murderer, was portrayed as a victim,” Derksen said prior to Latimer’s parole hearing, according to the Dec. 6 Globe and Mail.

Pickup pointed out that Tracey, far from being bed-ridden, travelled on a regular school bus with her siblings and other children every week day, “right up to the Friday before she was killed.”

“Tracey was not in constant pain as has been widely reported throughout the years,” he wrote. “At Robert Latimer’s trial it was clearly established that her pain was intermittent.

“She loved music, sleigh rides, television, games, parties, the circus, sleepovers and pets. Tracey adored her family and her face would brighten at the very sight of them. She did not have the mental capacity of a four-month-old infant — another inaccuracy widely reported,” he wrote.

Three members of the National Parole Board denied Robert Latimer day parole Dec. 5, noting he was not repentant for Tracey’s murder.

Latimer told the board that he believed he had done nothing wrong, because of his daughter’s constant pain.

Latimer has served seven years of a minimum 10-year sentence for asphyxiating Tracey in the cab of his truck in 1993. The crime set off an ongoing debate about mercy killing. Many, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association’s Alan Borovoy, want the law changed to reflect the “compassion” in Latimer’s motive.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition executive director Alex Schadenberg raised concerns about the “devaluing” of Tracey.

“We just wanted Robert Latimer to be treated in the same way as any person convicted of second degree murder,” Schadenberg said. “There is no reason to treat him any worse or better.”

He said he feared the sympathy for Latimer would have a detrimental effect on people with disabilities.

“Latimer got a life sentence because he took the life of his daughter,” said Catholic Organization for Life and Family (COLF) director Michèle Boulva. “Giving him conditional liberation now, at a time when people are discussing assisted suicide and euthanasia, would send a message that it is okay to take vulnerable life.

“Every human being no matter how handicapped has a right to respect for their life,” she said, noting that there should never be “a right to kill.”

Boulva, however, also noted how the Latimer case is “a reminder of the great, great suffering of so many Canadian families that have handicapped children and our responsibility as a society to support them in as many ways as we can so that life might be preserved and celebrated.”

“Would Robert Latimer be a folk hero and enjoy the support of a majority of Canadians if Tracey had been a healthy child?” Pickup asked. “No, I don’t think so.”

Latimer must wait another two years before applying for day parole again.

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