Pro-lifers and disability activists applauded the January 18 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that said Robert Latimer had to serve at least 10 years in prison for the 1993 murder of his daughter, Tracy, but some concede the fight is far from over.
The unanimous 7-0 decision dismissed Latimer’s request for leniency in sentencing as well as his appeal for a new trial in which he would be allowed to present a defense of necessity. Latimer, who remains unremorseful for killing his daughter, claims he gassed his daughter because he “loved her too much.”
The Court upheld the legal requirement for second-degree murder of a life sentence with no parole for at least 10 years.
Mary Ellen Douglas of Campaign Life Coalition told The Interim Latimer already received leniency when he was charged with second-degree murder instead of first-degree murder despite the fact his actions were pre-meditated. Douglas noted he arranged for the rest of the family to be away at the time of the murder, planned to shoot her like an animal before changing his mind and using a pipe to direct the fumes from the family truck into the cab of the vehicle, thus asphyxiating Tracy. He later tucked Tracy’s dead body into bed and lied to police, claiming she died in her sleep.
Latimer’s lawyers argue that he should have been given what a lower court judge granted him, a constitutional exemption from the statutory minimum sentence. But disability activists said granting such an exemption would reduce people with disabilities to second-class citizens unworthy of the full protection of the law as guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Court said, “In considering the defense of necessity, we must remain aware of the need to respect the life, dignity and equality of all the individuals affected by the act in question,” adding “The fact that the victim in this case was disabled rather than able-bodied does not affect our conclusion.”
Mel Graham, communications officer for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told The Interim, the decision declares “once and for all that the rights of people with disabilities is the same as for everyone else.”
“To murder anyone is murder,” Graham said, “there are no exceptions.”
The CCD was also pleased the Court recognized the practical importance of sending a clear signal that the rights of the disabled are no different than any other person. Graham said the Court recognized upholding the law would deter like-minded individuals from killing other vulnerable people.
Graham said the strongly worded decision, combined with the fact that a Senate committee last year admitted that its earlier recommendation for a third category of murder called compassionate homicide “went nowhere” indicates there is “no obvious starting point” for a public debate to weaken the legal protections for the disabled.
But pro-lifers are concerned, citing public opinion on the issue. An informal analysis by The Interim of letters to the editor of major daily newspapers, radio talk-show call-in programs and a Toronto television poll indicates overwhelming support of Robert Latimer by at least a four-to-one margin.
Latimer’s lawyers say they will request that their client be granted a pardon through the federally bestowed “royal prerogative of mercy.” Latimer supporters are distributing petitions urging the government to request that the Governor General reduce his sentence.
Graham is confident that the government will not seek clemency, noting the federal Justice Department intervened and argued against leniency. He also said there is no precedent for a pardon when a person is clearly guilty of a crime. But Graham said the CCD is ready to act if the push for clemency intensifies or seems that it might be successful.