By Paul Tuns
The Interim

On June 14, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the appeal of Robert Latimer’s minimum 10-year sentence for the murder of his disabled daughter.

In 1993, Latimer, a Saskatchewan farmer, gassed to death his 12-year-old daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy. He was originally convicted of second-degree murder but he was re-tried after the verdict was thrown out over charges of jury tampering. In the second trial, he was again found guilty of murder, but the judge invoked a rarely used constitutional exemption from the mandatory 10-year minimum sentence, giving him a mere two years less a day, half of which was to be served on his farm under “house arrest.”

In 1998, that sentence was appealed by the Crown and the conviction was appealed by Latimer. On November 23 of that year, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that Latimer would be sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. He is out on bail until the Supreme Court decides the case, which is expected later this year.

Latimer says that he should not be given the longer sentence – or for that matter, found guilty of murder – because he killed his daughter for “compassionate” reasons. There is no record of Tracy Latimer ever expressing a desire to die.

While technically the issue is about the appropriateness of constitutional exemptions – the Crown prosecutors are backing portions of the appeal saying the controversy over constitutional exemptions from mandatory sentences needs to be addressed by the highest court since it is “a question of national importance” – there are other, more serious, implications. If the Court does not maintain the life sentence, it will signal to all Canadians that involuntary euthanasia of disabled children by their parents will be considered a minor offense, thus treating such children as second-class citizens.

Council of Canadians with Disabilities national co-ordinator Laurie Beachell told The Interim in December 1998 that the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the constitutional exemption “sends a clear message that the lives of the disabled matter as much as regular folk.”

Later this year we’ll see if the Supreme Court will decide whether the disabled “matter as much as regular folk” or whether they should be killed, even without their consent, as long as their killers claim to be motivated by “compassion.”Latimer appeal begins