Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Bedeviling Issue of Robert Latimer

Robert Latimer was denied day parole yesterday essentially because he declined to say that he regretted killing his daughter over a decade ago. This, of course, was hardly surprising since he steadfastly maintained throughout this time that he killed his daughter as an act of mercy to relieve her from the misery of her life with cerebral palsy. Mr. Latimer was convicted of murder but his case eventually winded its way to the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of whether or not a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence for murder should be carved out for him given the circumstances of his case (the Court decided no) (in fact Mr. Latimer's case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada twice as an earlier conviction was overturned because of improprieties in the way in which the jury was assembled).

My own view is that the Court arrived at the right decision when it held that Mr. Latimer's conviction and sentence had to be upheld. In Canada we have not even come to a societal consensus on the issue of assisting a person of full mind commit suicide (see the Sue Rodriguez case). The issues around a parental killing of child who is disabled and unable to communicate her wishes on an informed basis are hopelessly more thorny. The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to genuinely appreciate the true significance of the genuinely held belief "I must kill her because I can not bear to watch her suffer any more" -- who is truly being shown mercy when that sentiment is acted upon? Is it mercy for the suffering child or is it mercy for the suffering caregiver? Moreover, there is a strong sense of ownership over a child that is being asserted in such cases -- "This is my child so I can decide whether she lives or dies."

This, however, does not make the Parole Board's decision right. Our society has sent a clear message about Mr. Latimer: he murdered his daughter contrary to the law and was given the full sentence mandated by the law. Now he is going through the process that every criminal in Canada is entitled to go through to ease their re-introduction to society. The core issue in this regard is not to force the person to confess and repent: it is to ensure that they are safe. The reason repentance is generally sought is not because this is the price of freedom but because it is an indicator of safety. Here though no-one thinks Mr. Latimer is going to rove the streets looking for children to kill. The reality is he will go out into society and perhaps advocate for change in the law -- something every Canadian has a right to do.

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nadinebc said...

Such a difficult, heartbreaking case. I do think he has served enough time, he isn't going to re-offend.

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