Canada Supreme Court Sends "Mercy Killer" to Jail

Ottawa, Canada -- Canada's Supreme Court refused leniency for so-called "mercy killing" on Thursday and ordered the imprisonment of a man convicted of murdering his handicapped daughter.

The country's highest court, unanimously rejecting the arguments of Robert Latimer that he had asphyxiated his 12-year-old daughter Tracy in 1993 out of love and necessity, upheld the legal requirement for second-degree murder of a life sentence with no parole for at least 10 years. Tracy had suffered from severe cerebral palsy and Latimer's lawyers said she had been in constant pain, but the case prompted heated debate over whether the killing of disabled people should be treated differently.

"In considering the defense of necessity, we must remain aware of the need to respect the life, dignity and equality of all the individuals affected by the act in question," the court ruled in its 7-0 decision. "The fact that the victim in this case was disabled rather than able-bodied does not not affect our conclusion..."

A shocked but defiant Latimer, 47, said at his Saskatchewan farm -- where he has been free on bail pending the court ruling -- that he had no regrets. "I didn't do anything wrong," he said, before driving in to town with his wife and turning himself in to prison. Latimer said the judges and the government were effectively promoting "torture, mutilation, forced feeding, just so that some poor little child can survive a few more days and to endure that much more torture."

In rejecting the argument that the sentence was cruel and unusual, the high court said a valid goal of severe sentences was to deter like-minded individuals. "This is particularly so where the victim is a vulnerable person with respect to age, disability or other similar factors," it said.

The court did take the unusual step of noting that the government had the "royal prerogative of mercy" -- it could cut Latimer's sentence or pardon him, and Latimer lawyer Mark Brayford appealed for just that in a later news conference.

But both he and Latimer noted that the federal government itself had argued against leniency during court proceedings. "The politicians won't touch this with a 10-foot pole. They'll never get near this," Latimer said.

Disabled and pro-life groups hailed the decision as saying handicapped people should receive equal protection under the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"It's a step in the right direction that hopefully we're still included in the Charter," Peter Park, a man who suffers from epilepsy, told reporters in the marble court lobby. Katie Paialunga, a paraplegic in a wheelchair, urged the government not to reduce the sentence: "It's saying that her (Tracy's) life is not as valuable as the next person's life, and that's not the message we want."

Jim Hughes, National President of Campaign Life Coalition said today, "to kill a person, any person, regardless of their physical or mental capacity, is a crime against humanity and must be answered with the full force of law. To do less would make a farce of the law and would relegate some human beings to a lesser state and of lesser value, than others".

"The Justices of the Supreme Court are to be congratulated on their integrity and on their conscientious deliberations."

Justice Minister Anne McLellan's spokeswoman, Farah Mohamed, said the government would examine any clemency appeal upon receiving recommendations from the National Parole Board. She noted that the Latimer case had split Canadian public opinion and a national discussion would continue, but she said: "At this time it is not our intention to create a third category of murder (of compassionate homicide)."

While the rest of Latimer's family was off to church on an October Sunday morning in 1993, he had put Tracy in his pickup and piped in fumes till she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Latimer's lawyers said Tracy had been slated to have a portion of her thigh bone removed to deal with a dislocated hip -- which Latimer and his wife viewed as mutilation. They said Tracy could not walk or feed herself, had trouble swallowing and had suffered from bronchitis, pneumonia and seizures.

Government lawyers said Tracy's health had improved in 1992 and 1993 and her hip operation would have helped further. They said she was not in constant pain and could enjoy music, respond to family members and visit other disabled children.

Lawyer Brayford said Latimer clearly was not in the same category as thugs. "How many other murderous thugs would you sent a message, 'Would you please get in a car and drive to jail and stay there for the rest of your life?"'

Days before Latimer killed Tracy, the Supreme Court had narrowly rejected an appeal by Sue Rodriguez, a woman with Lou Gehrig's disease, to allow doctors to help her kill herself. That was a 5-4 decision, with the current chief justice and one other current justice dissenting in favor of Rodriguez, but the distinction was Rodriguez had expressed a wish to die.

The lower house of parliament in the Netherlands voted in November to legalize euthanasia. And the U.S. state of Oregon allows assisted suicide, but referendums on this issue were defeated Maine and Michigan.

Source: Reuters, Pro-Life Infonet; January 18, 2001

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