By Shafer Parker
When I read the Herald’s report that Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer is seeking a federal pardon for taking the life of his 12-year-old daughter Tracy, who from birth had lived with cerebral palsy, I knew I had to speak up.
Why? Because his application for a pardon is simply a continuation of the injustice Tracy has suffered ever since Latimer propped her up behind the wheel of his pickup truck in October 1993 and piped in exhaust until she was dead.
It isn’t enough for Latimer to somehow justify the second-degree murder he committed back in 1993 (a conviction unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2001).
Part of the injustice Tracy continues to suffer stems from her father’s inability to face the facts of her life, and a compliant media’s willingness to accept his version of her story (more on that in a moment). The larger issue is that Latimer and Vancouver lawyer Jason Gratl are seeking to employ Canada’s two-year-old medical assistance in dying legislation as part of their plea.
Currently, the legislation does not apply to minors. Nor does it justify euthanizing Canadians simply because they are in some measure disabled. Nevertheless, if Latimer succeeds in getting federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to pardon him based on this argument, he will have endangered the lives of many.
As Heidi Janz, chair of the ending of life ethics committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, has written:
“contrary to the claim of Latimer’s lawyer that, ‘granting a pardon to Mr. Latimer does not detract from any value or principle,’ pardoning Tracy’s killer would, in fact, signal an abandonment of the government’s commitment to equality, justice and ending discrimination against disabled Canadians.”
It might make a difference if Wilson-Raybould takes the time to review transcripts of court testimony by Tracey’s mom before she decides whether to grant Latimer a pardon.
Instead of the “incessant agony” claimed by her father, her mother’s testimony reveals a girl who was enjoying her life. She loved music; she had a pull-switch on the canopy of her chair that would activate toys, and if a caregiver got too close, she would grab his or her glasses with her one useful hand and smile broadly.
She also smiled while playing a clapping game with her peers and would try to start again after others had grown tired.
In cross-examination, her mother also admitted in court that thanks to Tracy’s back surgery, in which steel rods were inserted into her spine, so much pressure had been taken off her abdomen, that for the first time in years, she could breathe easily and digest her food properly.
Yet Latimer has repeatedly cited this particular surgery as a cause of Tracy’s chronic suffering.
Moreover, instead of the pain-wracked, non-communicative sufferer described by Latimer, the record reveals that right up until her last weekend, Tracy continued to ride the bus to the developmental centre in Wilkie, Sask., five days a week, 45 minutes each way.
And in the caregiver’s communication book that was permanently attached to Tracey’s wheelchair, her mother included frequent descriptions of her as a “happy girl” who, for example, was “all smiles” when her cousins came for a visit.
And when her younger sister Lindsay invited friends for a sleepover, she was fully involved in their hijinks. “Tracy was the worst girl,” her mother wrote, “up at 10 to seven, laughing and vocalizing. She was really good the rest of the day.”
A major frustration for many observers, is Latimer’s absolute confidence that he did the right thing in taking his daughter’s life.
“This is not a crime,” he told reporters after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction. “Almost everything that’s happened have been things that ordinary humans would do.”
In light of the impact Latimer’s self-justifications may have on Canada’s assisted suicide law, it is worth noting that after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction, University of Saskatchewan law professor Donna Greschner declared that his actions “met the definition of first-degree murder.”