Murder victim Tracy Latimer is often forgotten

On Nov. 29, child murderer Robert Latimer was granted full parole. Latimer, 58, was convicted in 1997 for second-degree murder after the 1993 gassing death of his daughter Tracy, then 12 and who had cerebral palsy.

Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, was granted day parole in March 2008, but last year the parole board refused to grant him full parole. He sought looser restrictions and in September 2009, Latimer was required to check into a halfway house in Victoria, B.C., two days out of seven, which prevented him from tending to the family farm in Wilkie, Sask. Latimer`s lawyer, Jason Gratl, said it was not immediately clear what his client’s plans were and whether he would be returning home.

On Oct. 24, 1993, while his wife and children were at church, Latimer placed Tracy in the family pickup truck and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab, killing the helpless girl through carbon monoxide poisoning. He claimed it was a mercy killing to end Tracy’s suffering and series of surgeries.

After a series of appeals, including an unsuccessful attempt to get the Supreme Court of Canada to reduce the minimum sentence, he began serving a ten-year prison term in 2001. In 2008, he won early release on appeal of an earlier decision that denied day parole because the three-member panel considered him a risk to re-offend because of his “lack of insight” and remorse. In denying Latimer full parole in 2009, the National Parole Board noted that he has never shown any remorse for his crime. Hugh Scher, a lawyer, told CTV News that while he is pleased that Latimer has served the ten-year minimum sentence as anyone convicted of second-degree murder would face, but was concerned that the board seemed to ignore its own reason for refusing to grant full parole, namely the failure to demonstrate remorse for his crime.

Anti-euthanasia groups have condemned the decision to treat Latimer with leniency. Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says that his organization has consistently held “that Robert Latimer should be treated in the same manner as any other person who was convicted of second-degree murder.”

Schadenberg said, “The tragedy of the Latimer case was that many people, including many media outlets, were willing to describe Tracy Latimer in a dehumanizing manner in order to defend the heinous crime of her father.”

By focusing on her disabilities and not Tracy herself – she was invariably described as “severely disabled” without any description of what that meant – the media successfully turned public opinion in Latimer’s favour as a figurehead for the euthanasia movement who acted compassionately to end the suffering of another. But Schadenberg adds: “it concerns us that many Canadians believe that it is acceptable to kill children with disabilities.”

Disability groups that opposed Latimer’s seeking of exoneration or a lesser sentence a decade ago, seem resigned to his release now, but reiterate their disappointment that Latimer was portrayed as a victim of an unjust system. Laurie Beachell, national director of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, told QMI Agency that Latimer has served his time, but that “This was a murder, this was not a mercy killing.”

The EPC’s Scher said that he does not consider the current granting of parole an “impediment to the equality rights of people with disabilities” in that the “message” that the 10-year sentence sends to society is that the courts take so-called mercy killings as serious crimes.

Scher said the important thing is that people with disabilities are treated equally before the law.

The parole board did not release its reasons for reversing the 2009 decision, nor has it released the conditions of his full parole. Having been given a life sentence for second-degree murder, he will remain under some sort of state supervision, although to what extent is not clear.