Robert Latimer has been granted full parole. I am not surprised by the decision, just ticked off. It sends a terrible signal to society that the life of a person with a disability is less valuable than the life of an able-bodied person. That is sick and perverse and dehumanizing. Canada is better than that. As the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition’s Alex Schadenberg says, “The EPC has always held that Robert Latimer should be treated in the same manner as any other person who was convicted of second-degree murder.” There should be nothing controversial about that statement.
What gets me more upset, though, is that Robert Latimer was Tracy’s father. A dad is supposed to protect his daughter, not kill her. A dad is supposed to care and love his little girl, not put her in a truck, pipe deadly gasses into the cab, kill her, put her body back in bed and lie to his family later about killing her. For me, more than anything else, this case is about betrayal. I assume that before he killed Tracy, Robert Latimer loved her and played with her, fed her, held her and did all the other things fathers do for their daughters, only more so because of her increased needs due to her cerebral palsy. So I imagine that as Robert Latimer was preparing Tracy for her death, she assumed that he was taking her somewhere and that all would be all right; she was, after all, with her dad. But there would be no trip to the doctor’s office or school or a relative’s house. She would be alone in that cab, suffocating from fumes and noxious gas. And while she choked to death, she had to think that her father was going to help her, like he always did. But wasn’t there to rescue her. How can a father do that to his daughter?
We are told by Robert Latimer’s defenders that Tracy’s disability is supposed to be a mitigating factor in considering his crime. But it seems to me that her disability makes the crime all that more heinous. For her vulnerabilities and dependence, she required more love and care and help and protection; she certainly did not need death and she would never have expected that it would be her father who killed her.
Robert Latimer claims that he only wanted to end Tracy’s suffering, although when you listen to his words carefully you understand the suffering he wanted to end was his own. I have no doubt that he was under great pressure and that he had difficulty coping with the stress of caring for a disabled child. But he had options. There are community supports — supports that the Latimers apparently withdrew from.
For some reason, the media has simply lied about Tracy, leaving the impression that she was a human vegetable and in constant pain. Mark Pickup has noted that the impression is wrong: the pain was intermittent; she went to school (and returned on the same bus as her siblings); there was talk about integrating her into a regular classroom. As Pickup noted: “Despite her cerebral palsy and the various trials she faced, Tracey Latimer was a happy child as the court transcripts clearly show. She loved music, sleigh rides, television, games, parties, the circus, sleepovers and pets.” Or as Andrea Mrozek has noted:
“They claim suffering, suffering, suffering on Tracy’s part, but always neglect to discuss her and who she was: Her personality, her preferences, her schedule, her day. Tracy Latimer was a sister and a daughter, who had favourite colours and foods, and was a part of a family just the same as me. And I mean that. Tracy Latimer was no less a person than I.”
Tracy Latimer was a human being and she therefore deserved the same legal protections as every other person in Canada, and her murderer father deserves to be treated like any other murderer.
It disgusts me that Latimer got day parole back in 2008 and I predicted then that he would “someday likely qualify for early release.” It disgusts me that he ever get out of jail. He not only killed his daughter, he betrayed her. He did the exact opposite of what his parental responsibility required of him. He does not deserve mercy; Tracy deserves justice. Robert Latimer deserves time behind bars because he killed a human being. He should offend our moral sense because he took the life of an innocent human being and our moral senses should be doubly offended because he killed the one he should have cared for and protected.
The secondary concern is the message it sends to the public. This parole board decision to let Latimer free sends a signal to parents that they can dispatch their responsibilities to their disabled children by killing them. Dick Sobsey, of the JP Das Developmental Disabilities Centre at the University of Alberta, has found that as many as 40% of child murders may be parents acting ‘altruistically’. That number seems high to me, but it would indicate that the killing of children with disabilities — children like Tracy Latimer — are not isolated events. Furthermore, Sobsey found that the Latimer case itself has sent a signal to the permissibility of killing a child with disabilities: “Although the Canadian homicide rate in general has declined to its lowest level in 30 years, there has been significant increase in filicides that coincide with the positive publicity for justifying filicides provided by the Latimer trial.”
This is sick and sad. Furthermore, it is sick and sad that Robert Latimer is viewed as the victim here, not Tracy; it is sick and sad that he is seen as a folk-hero. As Mark Pickup has lamented, Canadian courts and the court of public opinion tend to be easy on killers of the disabled. Pickup says, “Seven out of ten Canadians support Robert Latimer. Seventy percent of Canadians agree with assisted suicide for the chronically ill and disabled.” He continues: “Canadian citizens with disabilities and incurable illnesses needed re-assurance that we are seen as deserving equal legal protections as able-bodied Canadians,” and in the 2008 parole decision, “We didn’t get it.” I presume he would say the same thing today. I can’t imagine would it would like living with a disability or incurable illness and all the difficulties that would entail and know that the public and the courts generally do not consider crimes committed against such people as worthy of punishment as crimes committed against able-bodied citizens. Talk about second-class citizenship. Pickup quotes Craig Langston, president of the Cerebral Palsy Association of B.C.: “I think it sends a scary message that parents can decide that taking a life of their child is the right thing to do. The preservation of life should be the first concern.” Should be, but in a country with more than 100,000 surgical abortions, are we really surprised that getting rid of “inconvenient” life is seen as a legitimate option when it comes to dealing with people who have disabilities. They don’t call it a Culture of Death for nothing.
One of the things that tire me about punditry and blogging is that everything is treated as a cause for outrage and anger. Few issues truly rise to the level of the outrageous, but a father killing his disabled daughter and using her disability as the excuse to get out of jail early qualifies — as does the sort of society that permits that turn of events.