Pardoning Robert Latimer Would Be A Disaster For The Disability Community

| July 30, 2018

Last week, the news came out that convicted murderer, Robert Latimer, wrote a letter to the Canadian Federal Minister of Justice seeking a pardon or a new trial for the 1993 murder of his daughter Tracy, who had cerebral palsy.

On October 24, 1993, Latimer sat Tracy in the front seat of his truck, put a hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab of the truck, and started the car, suffocating Tracy with carbon monoxide.

He claimed that he did it because he could not bear to see her suffering. This claim is challenged by the testimony of Tracy’s mother, both after the murder and before, in instruction notes to Tracy’s care providers, saying that Tracy was a “happy girl” who got up to as much trouble as the other children. Even though Latimer was convicted of 2nd degree murder, it took eight years to put him behind bars for this due to appeals. He was granted full parole in 2010. This case is the most prominent case dealing with so-called “mercy killings” in Canada. Euthanasia is legal in Canada, though it was not at the time Latimer killed Tracy.

A pardon for Robert Latimer would be an unmitigated disaster for the disability community. What a pardon would do is take the murder off the books. When you intentionally kill a person, as everyone knows that Latimer did, you get charged with murder and it goes in as a murder because that is the word attached to that action. By dropping the designation of murder in the case, Canada runs the risk of redefining personhood to exclude Tracy and people like her. It also runs the risk of expanding euthanasia to children, which it is currently not. Depending on how a potential Latimer pardon is justified, we could be looking at a level of dehumanization the likes of which the disability community has never seen before. Latimer’s lawyer said that granting a pardon to Latimer “does not detract from any value or principle”, but that is objectively untrue. It redefines murder, which redefines personhood, which is actually a very large step that detracts from universal human rights. Pardoning Robert Latimer would take at least Canadian society down a dark path that they probably do not want to go down.