Pro-life groups across the country welcome the February 6 Supreme Court of Canada decision granting a new trial for Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer.
While there exists a possibility of a second jury acquitting Latimer of murder charges, pro-lifers hope a new trial will refocus attention on the innocent victims of so-called mercy killings.
Convicted of second-degree murder in the November, 1994 death of his 12-year-old disabled daughter Tracy, Latimer was originally sentenced to life imprisonment, with no chance of parole for at least 10 years.
Tracy Latimer, a quadriplegic, suffered from cerebral palsy and was unable to talk, clothe or feed herself. Latimer confessed to police that he took his daughter from her bedroom, placed her inside a truck and attached a hose from the exhaust pipe to the interior. Tracy died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
During the original trial, it was revealed police and Crown prosecutors had questioned jurors as to their views on euthanasia and abortion. The information was not shared with Latimer’s defence attorney. Former Saskatchewan Crown prosecutor Randy Kirkham was eventually charged with attempted obstruction of justice for allowing the questioning of jurors.
“The actions of Crown counsel in interfering with prospective jurors were nothing short of a flagrant abuse of process … with the administration of justice,” wrote Chief Justice Antonio Lamer in ordering a new trial for Latimer.
The order did little to placate Latimer who was hoping for an acquittal father than a new trial. “(The courts) have no limits on how you can torture a person and they will carry forward with it,” Latimer told The Canadian Press. “To me, they are a bunch of backwoods, bloodthirsty butchers.”
Pro-life and disabled rights groups took a more restrained view of the Supreme Court ruling.
“It is absolutely imperative that the killing of Tracy be treated in the same manner as the killing of any other Canadian youngster,” said a statement released by Campaign Life Coalition. A number of affiliated groups, including the Toronto Right to Life Association, Alliance Action and the Alliance for Life expressed similar sentiments.
“If the killing of Tracy Latimer is not treated in the same manner as the deliberate killing of any non-disabled child, Canada will be sending out a message that it is okay to attack the disabled or others in our trust,” said Anna Desilets, executive director of the Winnipeg-based Alliance for Life.
A spokesperson with the Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities agreed a new trial is in order and suggested there is enough evidence to find Latimer guilty of murder. The group also expressed concern that a Latimer acquittal could open the door to similar mercy killings.
Meanwhile, Mark Pickup, one of Canada’s leading disabled rights activists, told The Interim that the Latimer case could lead to a two-tiered justice system.
“I’m sorry that the RCMP was sloppy in its investigation of Latimer,” Pickup said. “But does it change the degree of Latimer’s guilt in the killing of his daughter? That’s the question the disabled community is awaiting.”
Pickup said the fact the “mystery doctor” who helped Lou Gehrig’s Disease sufferer Sue Rodriquez commit suicide in 1994 is still at large, is evidence of the disabled being treated differently than other Canadians. “It seems that if you kill an able-bodied person, you if you kill someone who is disabled, it’s dismissed as a right to die.”