The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition presented its petition, Protecting People With Disabilities – The Supreme Court of Canada Latimer Decision to Parliamentary Pro-life Caucus co-chair Paul Steckle (Lib, Bruce).

The petition, signed by over 31,500 Canadians, supports the needs of people with disabilities and other vulnerable Canadians by rejecting the use of the Royal Prerogative of Mercy for Robert Latimer whose conviction of second degree murder was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada last January. On January 18 this year, cabinet may begin to consider granting the child-killer the royal prerogative of mercy.

EPC executive director Alex Schadenberg told The Interim the petition supports the efforts of NDP MP Wendy Lill who introduced a private members bill in October urging cabinet to uphold the law, protect vulnerable persons and not grant Latimer clemency. (See cover story, “Parliamentarians debate mercy for Latimer,” The Interim December 2001)

Schadenberg reported that the province in which they did the best, proportionately, was Saskatchewan, where they gathered over 10,000 signatures.

At the press conference, Schadenberg countered the argument that assisted suicide is a matter of free choice. He said “free choice” presupposes ethical caregivers, which isn’t always the case. Latimer supporters say he should have his sentenced reduced because he acted out of love for his disabled daughter. Latimer critics point to court testimony that indicates Latimer killed his daughter Tracy to put not her, but himself out of misery.

Pro-euthanasia activists responded with a petition of their own, signed by 52,000 – although the media reported the significantly higher figure of 60,000. Schadenberg said the organizers of the pro-Latimer petition were better financed, supported by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and given favourable media coverage. “Considering the advantages they had,” he said, “there isn’t much difference in the number of signatures either side received.”

The two petitions highlight a deep division within the country, echoing the findings of an EPC-sponsored poll released last summer. Schadenberg warned that countries “should not change laws when the population is so deeply divided.”