|Born||March 13, 1953|
|Children||Tracy Latimer (deceased), Brian Latimer, Lindsay Latimer, Lee Latimer|
Robert William "Bob" Latimer (born March 13, 1953), a Canadian canola and wheat farmer, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his daughter Tracy (November 23, 1980 – October 24, 1993). This case sparked a national controversy on the definition and ethics of euthanasia as well as the rights of people with disabilities, and led to two Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Latimer (1997), on section 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and later R. v. Latimer (2001), on cruel and unusual punishments under section 12 of the Charter. Latimer was released on day parole in March 2008 and was granted full parole, effective December 6, 2010.
Farm and family
Tracy Latimer was born November 23, 1980. An interruption in Tracy's supply of oxygen during the birth caused cerebral palsy, leading to severe mental and physical disabilities including violent seizures, which were controlled with seizure medication. She had little or no voluntary control of her muscles, wore diapers, and could not walk or talk. Her doctors described the care given by her family as excellent.
The Supreme Court judgment of 1997 noted, "It is undisputed that Tracy was in constant pain." In her medical testimony Dr. Dzus, Tracy's orthopaedic surgeon, noted "the biggest thing I remember from that visit is how painful Tracy was. Her mother was holding her right leg in a fixed, flexed position with her knee in the air and any time you tried to move that leg Tracy expressed pain and cried out". She also noted that despite having a hip that had been dislocated for many months Tracy could not take painkillers because she was on anti-seizure medication which, in combination with painkillers, could lead to renewed seizures, stomach bleeding, constipation, aspiration and aspiration pneumonia. Robert Latimer reported that the family was not aware of any medication other than Tylenol that could be safely administered to Tracy. Considering it too intrusive, the Latimers did not wish a feeding tube to be inserted, though according to the 2001 Supreme Court judgment, it might have allowed more effective pain medication to be administered and it may have improved her nutrition and health.
During her life, Tracy underwent several surgeries, including surgery to lengthen tendons and release muscles, and surgery to correct scoliosis in which rods were inserted into her back.
Tracy attended school regularly in Wilkie. People who worked with Tracy in group homes and schools described her smile, love of music and reaction to horses at the circus. According to the Crown prosecutors' brief presented at the second trial, "She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them. There is no dispute that through her life, Tracy at times suffered considerable pain. As well, the quality of her life was limited by her severe disability. But the pain she suffered was not unremitting, and her life had value and quality." In October 1993, Dr. Dzus recommended and scheduled further surgery on November 19, 1993 in the hope that it would lessen the constant pain in Tracy's dislocated hip. Depending on the state of her hip joint, the procedure might have been a hip reconstruction or it might have involved removing the upper part of her thigh bone, leaving the leg connected to her body only by muscles and nerves. The anticipated recovery period for this surgery was one year. The Latimers were told that this procedure would cause pain, and the doctors involved suggested that further surgery would be required in the future to relieve the pain emanating from various joints in Tracy's body." Dr. Dzus reported that "the post operative pain can be incredible", and described the only useful short-term solution being the use of an epidural to anesthetize the lower part of the body and help alleviate pain while Tracy was still in hospital.
On October 24, 1993, Laura Latimer found Tracy dead. She had died under the care of her father while the rest of the family was at church. At first Robert Latimer maintained that Tracy had died in her sleep; however, when confronted by police with autopsy evidence that high levels of carbon monoxide were found in Tracy's blood, Latimer confessed that he had killed her by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck's exhaust pipe to the cab. He said he had also considered other methods of killing Tracy, including Valium overdose and "shooting her in the head".
Robert Latimer said his actions were motivated by love for Tracy and a desire to end her pain. He described the medical treatments Tracy had undergone and was scheduled to undergo as "mutilation and torture". "With the combination of a feeding tube, rods in her back, the leg cut and flopping around and bedsores, how can people say she was a happy little girl?" Latimer asked.
Murder trials and appeals
Mr. Latimer was charged with first-degree murder, convicted of second-degree murder by a jury, and sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 10 years. He subsequently lost an appeal to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal. However, in February 1996, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a further appeal; and in June 1996, the original Crown prosecutor was charged with attempting to obstruct justice through jury tampering. In February 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a new trial for Mr. Latimer because of the allegations of jury tampering.
After a new trial, Mr. Latimer was again found guilty of second-degree murder in late 1997. At the sentencing hearing, Mr. Latimer’s lawyer argued that he should be given a “constitutional exemption,” or that the judge should find the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to be “cruel and unusual punishment” in the circumstances, and therefore a violation of Mr. Latimer’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On 1 December 1997, in a decision that surprised most legal commentators, the sentencing judge found that a 10-year sentence would indeed be “grossly disproportionate” to the offence. He sentenced Mr. Latimer to two years less a day, half of which would be served in a provincial jail and half on his farm. In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Mr. Latimer's crime could not be justified through the defence of necessity, and found that, despite the special circumstances of the case, the lengthy prison sentence given to Mr. Latimer was not cruel and unusual, and therefore not a breach of section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Court also ruled that Mr. Latimer was not denied rights to jury nullification, as no such rights exist, and his prison sentence was thus upheld.
Robert Latimer began serving his sentence on January 18, 2001 and was incarcerated at William Head Institution, a minimum-security facility located 30 kilometers west of Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. While in prison, he completed the first year of carpentry and electrician apprenticeships. He continued to run his family's farm with the help of a manager.
On December 5, 2007 Robert Latimer requested day parole from the National Parole Board in Victoria, BC. He told the parole board that he believed killing his daughter was the right thing to do. The board denied his request, saying that Latimer had not developed sufficient insight into his actions, despite psychological and parole reports that said he was a low risk to reoffend unless he was put into the same situation again. In January 2008, lawyer Jason Gratl filed the appeal on Latimer's behalf, arguing that in denying parole the board had violated its own rules by requiring admission of wrongdoing and by ignoring the low risk for reoffending. In February 2008, a review board overturned the earlier parole board decision, and granted Latimer day parole stating that there was low risk that Latimer would re-offend. Latimer was released from William Head Prison and began his day parole in Ottawa in March. On his release he stated that he planned to press for a new trial and for identification of the pain medication that the 2001 Supreme Court ruling suggested he could have used instead of killing his daughter.
He subsequently moved to Victoria, where he was required to live in a half-way house five days a week and an apartment two days a week. In July 2010 the National Parole Board denied his request to be allowed to leave the halfway house for five days a week. On appeal to the Federal Court of Canada in August 2010 the board was ordered by Madam Justice Mactavish to review its decision. The National Parole Board was also directed by the Judge to apply the least restrictive conditions consistent with society's protection. Latimer is consistently assessed as having a low risk of re-offending. Latimer is eligible for full day parole in December 2010.
Support for Latimer
A 1999 poll found that 73% of Canadians believed that Latimer acted out of compassion and should receive a more lenient sentence. The same poll found that 41% believe that mercy killing should be legal. Ethicist Arthur Schafer argued that Robert Latimer was "the only person in Canadian history to spend even a single day in prison for a mercy killing" and that compassion and common sense dictated a reduced sentence and the granting of parole. In their introductory college coursebook, "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", James Rachels and Stuart Rachels present Robert Latimer's actions sympathetically.
Support for Latimer's conviction and sentence
Numerous disability rights groups obtained intervenor status in the Latimer's appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that killing a disabled child like Tracy is no different than killing a non-disabled child and should carry the same penalty. To do otherwise, they argued, would devalue the lives of disabled people and increase the risk of more such killings by their caregivers. Religious groups representing the Roman Catholic church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also appeared as intervenors in Latimer's Supreme Court appeal.
Latimer's 2007 application for day-parole was rejected primarily because he still denied any wrongdoing. Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne argued that the National Parole Board was right to expect remorse on Latimer's part, because to do otherwise might inspire others to similar actions.
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- Examination-in-chief of Dr Anne K. Dzus, Latimer v. Her Majesty the Queen, Appellant's Record Book, File # 26980
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- globeandmail.com: Latimer denied early prison release, by Justine Hunter
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- Rachels, James, and Rachels, Stuart, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 5th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007), pp. 8-11.
- MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman (October 1998). "Factum of the intervenors, C. A. No. 7413/7416". Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Archived from the original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2007-01-27.
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- LEDERMAN, MARSHA (May 21, 2007). "Snake heads be gone! Grandpa Ozzy is finally settling down". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved November 20, 2010.
- In depth: Robert Latimer
- Council of Canadians with Disabilities - Latimer
- Broadreach - Advocacy
- DisAbled Women's Network - Tracy Latimer
- Case of Robert and Tracy Latimer by Philosophy Professor Dr. Rudy Krutzen