New calls to change law concerning ‘compassionate homicide’ rejected

On July 31, police in London, Ont. responded to a 911 call from a sixth-floor room at the Holiday Inn on Exeter Road. Shortly thereafter, David Carmichael was charged with first-degree murder in the death of his 11-year-old son, Ian. Ian was believed to have regular seizures and was diagnosed with an aneurysm in his brain. But media reports said Ian was known for his skill at bicycle acrobatics, while his father David was a former director at ParticipAction.

An article written in the National Post by bio-ethicist Peter A. Singer of Toronto compared Carmichael’s alleged murder of his son Ian to Robert Latimer’s killing of his daughter Tracy.

Singer believes that compassionate homicide is different than other homicide cases and should receive a lesser sentence. He referred to the 1995 Senate report on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, which also advocated for compassionate homicide as a separate category of murder in the Criminal Code.

Singer stated that it is more difficult to obtain a conviction in cases of compassionate homicide and therefore, a lesser sentence would ensure a conviction.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition opposes the creation of a lesser sentence for compassionate homicide. In our presentation to the Senate Committee of Life and Death in 2000, we stated that we believe any change in the law to allow for a so-called compassionate homicide exemption from the mandatory minimum sentence for murder would lead to less protection and more killing of vulnerable people in Canada. A compassionate homicide provision would lead to abuses of the present system of justice. Skilled defence lawyers, when possible, will attempt a plea of compassionate homicide, with the hope of lessening the sentence for their clients.

We also stated that changing the laws to include a provision for compassionate homicide would create a two-tier justice system. Those who kill vulnerable persons, especially persons with disabilities, would be treated more leniently than those who kill otherwise healthy people.

Finally, the EPC stated that a compassionate homicide provision in the Criminal Code would result in a challenge to the law to the Supreme Court of Canada, based on Section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the equality provision).

In our April 2001 newsletter, we reacted to the death of Chelsea Craig, allegedly at the hands of her mother, by stating: “The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition calls on the justice system to treat Chelsea’s death in the same manner as any other child killing. People with disabilities are recognized as equal citizens by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The justice system must not decide the fate of Chelsea’s mother based on the health of Chelsea, but rather on the facts of the case.”

In our January 2002 newsletter, we published information about the research of Professor Dick Sobsey of the University of Alberta, which indicated that during the Latimer trial, when pro-Latimer media coverage was the greatest, there was a 19.3 per cent increase in the deaths of disabled children in Canada, wherein the killer was a parent of the child.

The EPC believes that people with a disability need more protection under the law, not less. The law needs to recognize the vulnerable nature of persons with disabilities and prosecute offenders of vulnerable persons to the fullest extent of the law, to deter others from abusing people with disabilities.

In the case of a parent who kills a child with a disability, the parent has both killed his or her child and broken a trust relationship. A child with a disability trusts that his parent will provide for his basic needs and protect him. Therefore, the act of killing a child with a disability is more grievous, not less.

The EPC cannot pass any judgement on the Carmichael case until further information is published. Yet, our position on compassionate homicide is clear. We will defend the right of people with disabilities to receive equal protection before the law. Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.