Disabilities rights groups cheer decision, vow to continue fight

Robert Latimer, who is serving a life-sentence in the second-degree murder of his daughter Tracy in September 1993, has been denied early parole by a three-member panel of the National Parole Board.

He had applied for day parole after serving seven years of the 10-year mandatory minimum sentence that is associated with second-degree murder convictions. He was denied the parole essentially because he showed no sense of remorse.

Kelly-Ann Speck, one of the members of the parole board panel, stated to Latimer: “We are left with the feeling that you have not developed the kind of sufficient insight and understanding of your actions.” Speck also stated Latimer did not seem to appreciate “that the law is there to protect vulnerable people.”

Latimer had told the parole board his was not a snap decision – it came after his wife Laura stated they would have to call in Jack Kevorkian.

He said that the two of them never discussed his ultimate decision to pipe exhaust gas into the cab of his truck with Tracy in it. Indeed, Laura thought Tracy had died in her sleep and did not know that her daughter had been gassed until the girl’s autopsy.
Latimer continues to insist that taking Tracy’s life was the right thing to do. He explained that Tracy faced what he called another “mutilating” surgery.

When asked how he felt when he took Tracy’s life, Latimer said: “No one ever asked that before. It was a very personal thing and I still don’t feel guilty now. I would expect she would not have wanted any more pain. I can only go on what I would want for myself.”

When asked if he was a risk to kill again in a similar situation, Latimer stated “it was unlikely that such a situation would occur again.”

When asked why he did not ask to be paroled near his wife Laura and their three living children, he replied he wanted to be in Ottawa for advocacy work and hoped to spare his family the constant media attention of his release.

Speck stated to Latimer: “You talked about this being a private matter, exploited by others. We’re making a strong recommendation to Corrections Canada that you participate in some counselling.”

An appraisal of Latimer found he was not considered a risk to re-offend unless he was placed in similar circumstances with a disabled child.

Rory Summers, president of the B.C. Association for Community Living, stated: “We’re pleased with the decision.” Summers and BCACL executive director Laney Bryenton were two of the only people in the public gallery for the hearing, other than corrections staff and 18 journalists.

Brenton stated: “We assumed, I guess, he was going to get (parole). But what we saw (from the gallery) was such a profound lack of remorse for his actions, that it was deeply disturbing to the two of us.”

Jim Derksen, of the Council of Canadians With Disabilities, said his association will continue to fight the “unjust and unfair portrayal” of Tracy Latimer. Derksen stated Robert Latimer was portrayed as a victim. “Some people were willing to agree that Tracy’s life was not worth living – it’s extremely dangerous to vulnerable people with disabilities.”

Every major newspaper but the Calgary Herald editorialized against the parole board’s decision, with the Globe and Mail running four pro-Robert Latimer editorials, calling for his early parole, condemning the parole board’s decision and calling for the need to change the law on physician-assisted suicide. The Herald, on the other hand, said that justice had been served by the courts and the parole board in upholding Tracy Latimer’s life as worthy of protection as that of an able-bodied child.

Evelyn Bair of the National Parole Board stated: “Mr. Latimer likely will not have another opportunity at parole for two years.” He is eligible for full-parole after 10 years.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition wanted Robert Latimer to be treated like any person who has been convicted of second-degree murder. Therefore, if the parole board applied the same rules for Latimer as for all other second-degree murder day parole applications, it saw that justice had been done.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is primarily concerned about the threat to vulnerable people in society if euthanasia or assisted suicide were ever to become accepted practices. The case of Tracy Latimer is a vivid example of why every Canadian should be concerned about euthanasia.

Alex Schadenberg, is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.