CHN DIGEST ONLINE VOLUME I No. 3.
CHN DIGEST ONLINE VOLUME I No. 3 includes:
1.) COMMENTARY ON THE TRACY LATIMER MURDER - "Who is the real Robert Latimer"?
|2.) A SENATOR RESPONDS TO A DISABLED DISABILITY ACTIVIST, REGARDING THE LATIMER CASE|
|COMMENTARY in response to Senator Sharon Carstairs by Cheryl Eckstein, editor CHN|
|3.) PEP'S PRESIDENT RESPONSE TO SENATOR SHARON CARSTAIRS|
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1.) COMMENTARY ON THE TRACY LATIMER MURDER
by Cheryl Eckstein, CHN.
Tracy Lynn Latimer was a young child of twelve when her father intentionally gassed her to death. Her death chamber was not in Auschwitz it was in her father's pick-up truck, parked on her parents farm in Saskatchewan. The year was 1993. In November of 1994, Tracy's father, Robert Latimer, was found guilty of murdering Tracy. By mid-July, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal unanimously upheld the lower court's decision. However Appeal Court Justice E.D. Bayda opposed Latimer's minimum sentence, declaring such a sentence was "cruel and unusual" punishment for the Saskatchewan farmer husband and father of three other children.
In Justice Bayda's dissent, he recommended that Latimer receive a "constitutional exemption" from penalty of the second degree-murder conviction (life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years). Edmonton reporter Joe Woodard disclosed some fascinating facts about Justice E.D. Bayda having a previous encounter in court with Robert Latimer, in a piece titled, "Who is the real Robert Latimer?" In it Woodard says:
In his dissent, Chief Justice Bayda describes Latimer as "typical salt of the earth...a devoted family man...loving, caring, nurturing." The "tragically disfigured" Tracy was "born clinically dead and need[ed] to be resuscitate" and thenceforth lived in constant pain. When Latimer put his daughter in his truck and piped lethal exhaust gases into its cab, he was "motivated by love, mercy and compassion...." Mr. Justice Bayda also noted that "the appellant has no criminal record. He poses no risk to society and requires no rehabilitation."
Latimer's record was indeed clean, despite the fact that he was convicted of rape in 1974. In May of that year, a jury in Battleford Sask., found the then-21-year-old Latimer and another young man guilty in the rape of a 15-year-old girl in the nearby town of Wilkie on September 8, 1973. By remarkable coincidence, the presiding judge at Latimer's rape trial was none other than Mr. Justice Bayda. Thus, 21 years later, he would have been acutely aware of Latimer's clean criminal record, because the rape conviction was overturned on appeal when the trial judge was found to have erred in his handling of the case. The appeal court ruled that Mr. Justice Bayda hadn't permitted sufficient examination of the girl's previous sexual history, and that he'd hurried the jury's deliberations. The case was sent back to Battleford for retrial, but the Crown declined to prosecute anew. Latimer's rape charge was also revealed in: "Who is the real Robert Latimer?", by Joe Woodard, "The British Columbia Report, September 4, 1995: 16
(Note from CHN: For more information on Latimer's rape see THE REPORT NEWSMAGAZINE February 19 "Ten Years Minimum.")
[...] While it's odd that the judge who presided over the rape trial that found Latimer guilty would now describe him as "salt of the earth," there are other aspects of the chief justice's assessment of the murder case that confound people like Saskatoon doctor Sheila Harding, herself the mother of a disabled child. "We only have his wife's word that [Latimer] was a good father, that Tracy was born dead, and that she couldn't be given painkillers for her dislocated hip. What do we really know?" Knowingly or unknowingly, Laura Latimer did introduce some inaccuracies into her husband's murder trial--and they were echoed in Mr. Justice Bayda's later dissent. "At birth, Tracy was healthy, with good APGARs [a test of newborns' vital signs]," says Richard Snyder, director of child development at Saskatoon's Kinsmen's Children's Centre. "She had to be resuscitated later her first day, but lots of babies do. And she could be given analgesics for her pain." Dr. Snyder surmises that Tracy was probably always uncomfortable, but quickly adds, "I certainly don't think we can go around killing our children." ["Who is the real Robert Latimer?", Joe Woodard, "The British Columbia Report, September 4, 1995: 16]
As the push for the "right-to-die" continues (a euphemism that really means wanting to establish a so-called "right-to-be-killed") the Latimer appeal is of national, if not, international concern. Discrimination against the disabled is as old as mankind. Tragically, if society once again exchanges the truth for the hideous lie that murdering certain people, like Tracy, who Justice Bayda says was "tragically disfigured" are actions "motivated by love, mercy and compassion...." then we have learned nothing from a previous generation of people who promoted such ideologies which led to forcefully taking the disabled and vulnerable to Auschwitz. [COMMENTARY ON THE TRACY LATIMER MURDER by Cheryl Eckstein, CHN.]
URL for THE REPORT News magazine http://report.ca/
215 Victoria Avenue West
It does not surprise me that we have different views on the Robert Latimer case. What does surprise me, however, is your presumption in knowing the motives of Robert Latimer. Since you did not live in his family and had no ideas of the struggle they had I believe it is impossible for anyone other then Robert Latimer himself to know his inner thoughts.
What struck me as significant in the case was that they had placed Tracy in care about a year before her death. After it became clear she was dying of starvation, she lost a significant portion of her body weight in just a few weeks because no one was willing to spend the amount of time the Latimer's did in feeding her, they took her back home. This is hardly a sign of uncaring and unfeeling people.
I think it is also important for you to understand that Robert Latimer received a life sentence and not a ten year sentence. He becomes eligible for parole after 10 years. There is no guarantee he would get it. The recent case in New Brunswick where two parents starved and tortured their son to death resulted in a verdict which allows them parole after five years. Karla Homolka becomes eligible for parole after 4 years. I believe both of these cases are far more horrible then the case of Tracy Latimer.
I do not devalue your life. To the contrary I celebrate it. Vulnerable people must be protected and that is why I believe Robert Latimer is guilty of a crime and should be punished. However, in his case I believe the sentence should fit the crime and I do not [in original letter] believe a sentence of life imprisonment with no eligibility for parole for ten years is a miscarriage of justice.
COMMENTARY in response to Senator Sharon Carstairs by editor CHN:
Ms. Carstairs' opinion is just that -- subjective. Ms. Carstairs erroneously claims " After it became clear she was dying of starvation, she lost a significant portion of her body weight in just a few weeks because no one was willing to spend the amount of time the Latimer's did in feeding her, they took her back home. "
First, according to trial transcripts, "Autopsy reports concluded, Tracy had no life threatening disease at time of death. (pages 173, 350, & 354)"
Secondly, Tracy was not "dying of starvation" as Carstairs would have the public believe. In fact, "There seems to be some confusion surrounding the discussion about Tracy's weight loss, but the exact amount of weight lost was never established. For example in defence lawyer, Brayford's questioning of Dr. Snyder, Brayford's question only alludes to some child's weight saying, "When you see a child that was perhaps 45 pounds and over a short period of time by say a couple months was to drop from say 45 pounds to 38 pounds...be a very serious health concern?" (259) When Brayford examined Laura, he asked her "What was the sort of maximum body weight that she ever attained in her life?" Laura answers, "I think the most I ever saw -- was 44.5 pounds. That was done just a few weeks before she died...." During the "last summer" she weighed "38 pounds" or "close to "40 pounds". (341) " [See: "TRACY LYNN LATIMER, BETTER OFF DEAD? A BREACH OF COMPASSION" Written & compiled by: Cheryl Eckstein, from the "INFORMATION SERIES" In "Euthanasia Round Table."]
Third, I question Ms. Carstairs opening comment - does she really understands what she has said? Carstairs said she believes "it is impossible for anyone other then Robert Latimer himself to know his inner thoughts." That is exactly why we need the homicide laws to remain in tact. In fact, regarding creating a lesser offence for "mercy killing", the British House of Lords rejected any move to create a new offence of "mercy-killing", which would carry a lesser penalty. They concluded their study stating: "To distinguish between murder and "mercy killing" would be to cross the line which prohibits any intentional killing, a line which we think it essential to preserve. Nor do we believe that "mercy killing" could be adequately defined, since it would involve determining precisely what constituted a compassionate motive. For these reasons we do not recommend the creation of a new offence." [REPORT OF THE SELECT COMMITTEE ON MEDICAL ETHICS, Vol.I, p.53]
Lastly, Senator Carstairs neglects to recommend just how Latimer should be punished; and states that "Vulnerable people must be protected." How is it possible to protect future victims, especially the vulnerable and weakest in our society, when the law would justify the actions and agree with the murderer, which strongly implies the person they have killed is "better off dead?" Ms. Ducharme response to the letter she received from Senator Carstairs, is indispensable information why a mercy-killing law would threaten the lives of all human beings, making them vulnerable to abuse.
Ed., Cheryl Eckstein
Re: Robert Latimer case
Thank you for taking the time to write. I think there are at least two reasons our views on Robert Latimer's case are so different. One is that I have been given different facts of his case than the ones you state in your letter. The other is that I think the deliberate taking of another person's life without their consent is as serious as any crime.
Obviously, you believe that the sentence for murder should depend on the judge's interpretation of the motivation of the killer. For a person in my position, this means that if someone sees my dependent existence and decides that I would be better off dead, that person faces a lesser sentence than someone who kills out of anger or jealousy or greed. A lesser sentence means less protection from the law. If you truly believe that "Vulnerable people must be protected" as you stated in your letter, and if you believe that vulnerable people are entitled to equal protection of the law (as guaranteed in the Charter) then killers motivated by "caring and feeling" in putting vulnerable people "out of their misery" must receive the same penalty as other killers. At minimum, the sentence should not be affected up or down by the disability of the victim.
You state that Tracy was placed in care "about a year before her death," after which "it became clear she was dying of starvation." According to the evidence at the trial, Tracy was placed in a group home between June and September 1993 for 3 1/2 months while Laura Latimer was pregnant. During that 3 1/2 month period, she lost about 7 pounds. She could have been fed all of the nutrition she needed with a feeding tube, but her parents refused to permit one to be used. Feeding tubes are commonly used for the many persons who have similar disabilities to Tracy's. Tracy was approved for respite care; the Latimers refused it. She was approved for permanent placement in a group home, where all of her nutritional needs could have been met; the Latimers refused this as well. I do not dispute that Laura and Robert Latimer were caring and feeling parents, up to the point where Robert killed Tracy. I just don't believe that caring and feeling justifies murder, even a little bit.
You compare Robert Latimer's punishment to those of the New Brunswick parents or of Karla Homolka. Several points need to be made. First, in neither of your examples was the conviction for second degree murder, nor for murder at all. Secondly, it may well be that the sentences imposed in those other cases were lighter than what was deserved. But if that justifies a lesser sentence for Latimer for his murder, does it not also justify lighter sentences for all murderers whose killings were not as "horrific" as the two you mention? I believe Karla Homolka made a plea bargain to allow the prosecution to have a chance of convicting Carey Bernardo, the person they believed had actually done the killing. Without her evidence, they felt they could not convict him. There is no corresponding consideration in Latimer's case. I don't know enough about the New Brunswick case you mention, but if the crime was not murder, the Criminal Code sets a lesser sentence range (as it should).
The most serious crime in the Criminal Code is first degree murder. It involves killing that is planned and deliberate. It is still a mystery to me why Latimer, who planned his killing of his daughter for two weeks before he did it, and then killed her through an elaborate system of pipes running from his truck's exhaust, was not convicted of first degree murder. I am prepared to accept the jury's verdict, however.
The Code does not mention motive, and properly so. As you yourself have said, no one other than Latimer himself can truly know what his motive was. The evidence at the trial strongly suggests that the motive was that he and his wife did not want to see their daughter "mutilated", because the surgery she was to receive might have involved removing her leg at the joint to prevent future dislocations of her hip, and the pain that would come from them. The Latimers wanted her "whole", just as when they refused a feeding tube. I wonder what they would think if they saw my breathing tube and funny-shaped body? I shudder when I think of it.
Sharon, you are in a powerful position. You have the respect of many Canadians, especially here in Manitoba, and people very much respect your opinions. When you ask for mercy for Robert Latimer, you give credence to the many people who have said that "he suffered enough for 12 years" (the length of Tracy's life, not the time she endured pain); who have said that "we treat animals better than we treat people" (equating disabled people to beasts); and who say that Robert Latimer killed out of love (making it a kindness to end a life of apparent misery, with or without that person's consent). Your support for these opinions is shocking and devastating. Because of your position of power and respect, it puts the lives of all of us who are obviously disabled at greater risk. It also means that presently able Canadians will not honour our right to life and respect as equal to theirs. You have done us a grave disservice.
Perhaps if you would delve into the facts of this case, your opinion would change enough to alter the public stance you have taken. That would make a huge difference.
Personally, I do no agree with you that these facts are particularly important. If there had been no treatment or group home options, and even if Tracy's pain could not have been alleviated by surgery, I could not condone her father's taking of her life. It is just that simple: deliberate taking of any human life is murder. Let those who commit murder receive consistent punishment, without regard for the disability of their victims or the motives they claim to have had. That is justice which we all ought to be able to accept. The government you represent could be proud to defend a justice system with such values.
President and Founder People in Equal Participation Inc.
c. All Senators of Canada; All Members of Parliament; All media enc.
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|The CHN DIGEST ONLINE is researched and edited by Cheryl Eckstein, president of CHN and is copyright © of the Compassionate Healthcare Network (CHN).|
CHN DIGEST ONLINE Jan. 11, 1996 VOLUME I No. 3.
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