Thursday, December 06, 2007

Her Father, Her Murderer…

"Self-professed mercy killer Robert Latimer denied day parole" Macleans Magazine, December 5, 2007.

On October 24th 1993 Robert Latimer murdered his 12 year old disabled daughter Tracy. A pre-meditated murder, he had considered options like giving her valium, shooting her in the head and then burning her body. Ultimately he decided to poison her by piping carbon monoxide into his truck, where he had previously secured her. He then watched her die - it took 30 minutes.

Latimer killed Tracy while her family was at church and then placed her body in bed for her mother to discover. For some time Latimer lied about killing his daughter - claiming that she had passed away in her sleep and even tried to have her body cremated before an autopsy could be preformed. He only confessed to her murder after the results of the autopsy showed carbon monoxide poisoning to be the cause of death.

Ironically, just twelve days before Tracy was killed, Latimer was offered a permanent placement for Tracy at a nearby facility - but he rejected it saying he had "other plans."

Is the law and this situation complicated? Perhaps. But Latimer was convicted twice and found unanimously guilty of second degree murder by all 24 jurors.

Even today Latimer remains unrepentant and sees himself as the real victim, believing that he did the right thing – meaning he would do it all over again given the opportunity. That's a dangerous precedent that puts him at a higher risk of re-offending or encouraging others to perpetrate like crimes.

Parole is not a guaranteed right of a criminal, but something they can earn through demonstration of appropriate behaviours. The parole board tries to determine if you have the potential to re-offend, usually this is based on an acknowledgement that you committed an offence and have demonstrated some kind of remorse because of it, yet the parole board said they were left with the feeling "Mr. Latimer has not developed sufficient insight and understanding of his actions." The fact that even years after Latimer murdered his daughter he is unable to show remorse for his crime demands that he be kept in prison.

Tracy suffered from a disability called Cerebral Palsy - a non-progressive, non- life threatening disorder that approx 50,000 other Canadians also live with – with a normal life expectancy. A person with the disorder can expect to improve somewhat during childhood if they receive the necessary care from specialists and their disabilities are properly managed. Latimer admitted to the parole board that he and his wife did not seek outside help or advice about Tracy. He also did not provide her with adequate pain relief medication – for reasons that were never made clear beyond Latimer believed that drugs beyond Tylenol would interfere with her anti-seizure medications.

We will never know the person that Tracy was becoming, but we know what she was like from testimony at the trials. Tracy could think independently and had attended school since she was 4 years old. She smiled, laughed, cried "very seldom," responded to affection, recognized and communicated with people, enjoyed horses like every other 12 year old girl, loved music and campfires. Laura Latimer, Tracy’s mom, testified that she was a "very happy, very happy little girl" and wrote in her own diary that Tracy was often happy and smiling. Tracy's surgeon was impressed with the progress she was making and testified that her quality of life was improving with each procedure. Tracy's teacher testified she was a "happy, loving person who did not show signs of extreme pain," even though she had a dislocated hip.

Tracy had only just returned home two weeks before her death. She had been living in a group home for four months and came home to prepare for her hip surgery, an operation that would have alleviated her pain.

"Some people were willing to agree his daughter's life was not worth living - it's extremely dangerous to vulnerable people with disabilities" said Jim Derksen (Council of Canadians with Disabilities).

Before you grant Latimer any credibility at all consider what that means for the safety of other vulnerable Canadians, including your future self. Able-bodied people can not and should not judge the "quality of life" of a disabled person. It is too simple and misinformed to dismiss this as a mercy killing or "a father putting his child out of her misery."

Many people live with the medical problems that Tracey had, and many other kinds too. Thousands of Canadians in this same situation take care of their children every day. Parents do not determine if their child deserves to live or die. Children are not property and they have a right to be protected by their parents and the law.

It is disturbing to me how some "able-bodied" people can talk so poorly of disabilities, saying thoughtless things like "If I ever become disabled, kill me." What does that say of our society? And what is a disability? After my Dad's first stroke he had dementia - a disability to be sure, but he still managed to really enjoy the next 20 years of his life. My sister recently had a disk out of place in her back and is now learning to walk again - she's only 40. Is her life now not worth living?

Latimer is NOT some hero that through an act of love compassionatly ended his daughter’s suffering. He planned her murder (rather than provide her the help she needed), lied to cover it up in order to get away with it AND still shows no remorse. If Latimer believes what he did was right, he can believe that it is worth rotting in prison for. Let him serve his sentence for it's the least he (and Tracy) deserve. Robert Latimer is where he belongs.

No comments: