Convicted ‘mercy-killer’ plans to appeal latest decision to the Supreme Court

On Nov. 23, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled unanimously that Robert Latimer must serve the mandatory life sentence, with no chance of parole for 10 years, for the “mercy killing” of his 12-year-old daughter Tracy in 1993.

The decision overturns a lower court ruling last year, in which Mr. Justice Ted Noble granted an unprecedented constitutional exemption from the mandatory sentence for second-degree murder, sentencing Mr. Latimer instead to two years less a day. Half of that would have been served under “house arrest” on the Latimer farm.

Tracy had a severe form of cerebral palsy. She had not expressed a wish to die.

Council of Canadians with Disabilities national co-ordinator Laurie Beachell told The Interim the Court of Appeal’s decision “sends a clear message that the lives of the disabled matter as much as regular folk.”

He said the only way to interpret Mr. Justice Noble’s earlier sentence “is that it is all right to kill disabled children or vulnerable adults.
“[. . .]It is shocking to our community that after 20 years of advances in human rights for people with disabilities … we have to deal with fundamental questions of the right to life.”

Denise Hounjet-Roth, president of Campaign Life Coalition Saskatchewan, said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the mandatory sentence. She said she fears the courts are tending to usurp the power of the legislatures in dealing with “right-to-die” issues.

CLC national president Jim Hughes said that the restoration of the mandatory sentence “gives Tracy’s life its dignity back,” and gives confidence to the parents of disabled and vulnerable children.

Mark Pickup, a leading Canadian defender of people with disabilities, told The Interim that Mr. Justice Noble’s lenient sentence “heralded the emergence of a new underclass: the disabled.” Mr. Pickup noted that some people get longer sentences for embezzlement.

To Mr. Pickup, the most disturbing aspect of the case so far is the support for Robert Latimer in popular opinion and in the media. “It is a rude awakening to the disabled to see that Canadian society holds us in such low regard,” he said.

Mary Wolfe of Saskatoon says support for the previous decision indicated society might not want her own children kept alive. Two years ago the family lost Megan, the oldest of their five children, to Niemann-Pick Type C, a rare disease in which the brain progressively deteriorates. Their second daughter, Shivawn, is also dying from the disease.

Mrs. Wolfe believes Mr. Justice Noble’s decision implied that “the disabled, the terminally ill, (and) the vulnerable didn’t deserve the protection awarded to everyone else. It qualified the meaning and value of their life.”

She said the imposition of a sentence of at least 10 years “ensures the safety of the sick and vulnerable before the law.” Mrs. Wolfe says she can now feel safer leaving her daughter at the hospital or with other caregivers, knowing that “they know they would get 10 years if they killed her.”

Mrs. Wolfe says the mandatory sentence also affirms the rightness of the sacrifices she has made for her daughter. “In my weakest and hardest moments, it is good to think about the 10-year sentence (by) society says it is right to support her (Shivawn) with 24-hour care.”

Mr. Latimer’s lawyers are appealing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.