Robert Latimer: Wikis


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Robert Latimer
Born March 13, 1953 (1953-03-13) (age 56)
Occupation Farmer
Spouse(s) Laura Latimer
Children Tracy Latimer (deceased), 3 others

Robert William "Bob" Latimer (born March 13, 1953), a Canadian canola and wheat farmer, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his daughter Tracy (November 23, 1980 – October 24, 1993). This case sparked a national controversy on the definition and ethics of euthanasia as well as the rights of people with disabilities, and two Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Latimer (1997), on section 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and later R. v. Latimer (2001), on cruel and unusual punishments under section 12 of the Charter. Latimer was released on day parole in March 2008 and will be eligible to apply for full parole in December 2010.


Farm and family

Before his imprisonment, Bob Latimer lived near Wilkie, Saskatchewan, on a 1,280 acres (520 ha) wheat and canola farm[1] with his wife, Laura, and their four children.

Tracy Latimer

Tracy Latimer was born November 23, 1980. An interruption in Tracy's supply of oxygen during the birth caused cerebral palsy,[2] leading to severe mental and physical disabilities including seizures that were controlled with seizure medication.[3][4] She had little or no voluntary control of her muscles, wore diapers, and could not walk or talk. Her doctors described the care given by her family as excellent.[5]

The Supreme Court judgment of 1997 noted, "It is undisputed that Tracy was in constant pain."[6][7] In her medical testimony Dr. Dzus, Tracy's orthopaedic surgeon, noted "the biggest thing I remember from that visit is how painful Tracy was. Her mother was holding her right leg in a fixed, flexed position with her knee in the air and any time you tried to move that leg Tracy expressed pain and cried out".[5] She also noted that despite having a hip that had been dislocated for many months Tracy could not take painkillers because she was on anti-seizure medication which, in combination with painkillers, could lead to renewed seizures, stomach bleeding, constipation, aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.[5][8] Robert Latimer reported that the family was not aware of any medication other than Tylenol that could be safely administered to Tracy.[9] Considering it too intrusive, the Latimers did not wish a feeding tube to be inserted, though according to the 2001 Supreme Court judgment it might have allowed more effective pain medication to be administered, as well as improve her nutrition and health.[7]
During her life, Tracy underwent several surgeries, including surgery to lengthen tendons and release muscles, and surgery to correct scoliosis in which rods were inserted into her back.[5]

Despite her medical condition, Tracy attended school regularly in Wilkie.[10] People who worked with Tracy in group homes and schools described her smile, love of music and reaction to horses at the circus.[5] According to the Crown prosecutors' brief presented at the second trial, "She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them. There is no dispute that through her life, Tracy at times suffered considerable pain. As well, the quality of her life was limited by her severe disability. But the pain she suffered was not unremitting, and her life had value and quality." [11] In October 1993, Dr. Dzus recommended further surgery on November 19, 1993 in the hope that it would lessen the constant pain in Tracy's dislocated hip. Depending on the state of her hip joint, the procedure might have been a hip reconstruction or it might have involved removing the upper part of her thigh bone, leaving the leg connected to her body only by muscles and nerves.[5][7] The anticipated recovery period for this surgery was one year. The Latimers were told that this procedure would cause pain, and the doctors involved suggested that further surgery would be required in the future to relieve the pain emanating from various joints in Tracy's body."[7] Dr. Dzus reported that "the post operative pain can be incredible",[8] and described the only useful short-term solution being the use of an epidural to anesthetize the lower part of the body and help alleviate pain while Tracy was still in hospital.[5]

Tracy's death

On October 24, 1993, Laura Latimer found Tracy dead. She had died under the care of her father while the rest of the family was at church. At first Robert Latimer maintained that Tracy had died in her sleep; however, when confronted by police with autopsy evidence that high levels of carbon monoxide were found in Tracy's blood, Latimer confessed that he had killed her by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck's exhaust pipe to the cab. He said he had also considered other methods of killing Tracy, including Valium overdose and "shooting her in the head".[7]

Robert Latimer said his actions were motivated by love for Tracy and a desire to end her pain.[12] He described the medical treatments Tracy had undergone and was scheduled to undergo as "mutilation and torture". "With the combination of a feeding tube, rods in her back, the leg cut and flopping around and bedsores, how can people say she was a happy little girl?" Latimer asked.[13]

Murder trials and appeals

On November 16, 1994, a jury convicted Latimer of second degree murder. However, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a retrial, because of jury interference as the prosecutor had questioned potential jurors about religion, abortion, and mercy killing during jury selection. (See R. v. Latimer (1997) for more information on this decision.) On November 5, 1997, the jury at the second trial again found Latimer guilty of second degree murder.[11] Although the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is life with no chance of parole until after 10 years, the jury recommended that Latimer be eligible for parole after one year.[1] Because he believed Latimer was motivated by compassion, Judge Ted Noble argued that a "constitutional exemption" could apply, and sentenced him to two years, one in jail and one under house arrest.[14]

The Crown appealed the decision because Latimer had not received the minimum sentence for his crime. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that Latimer would have to serve a life sentence.[15] Latimer appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, asserting that he had not been allowed to argue that he had no choice but to kill Tracy, and that a life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.[14] The Supreme Court unanimously upheld Latimer's conviction and life sentence holding that Latimer had other options available to him and that the minimum 10-year sentence was not excessive.[7] (for details, see R. v. Latimer (2001)).


Robert Latimer began serving his sentence on January 18, 2001 and was incarcerated at William Head Institution, a minimum-security facility located 30 kilometers west of Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. While in prison, he completed the first year of carpentry and electrician apprenticeships. He continued to run the farm with the help of a manager.[9]


On December 5, 2007 Robert Latimer requested day parole from the National Parole Board in Victoria, BC. He told the parole board that he believed killing his daughter was the right thing to do. The board denied his request, saying that Latimer had not developed sufficient insight into his actions, despite psychological and parole reports that said he was a low risk to reoffend unless he was put into the same situation again.[16][17] In January 2008, lawyer Jason Gratl filed the appeal on Latimer's behalf, arguing that in denying parole the board had violated its own rules by requiring admission of wrongdoing and by ignoring the low risk for reoffending.[18][19] In February 2008, a review board overturned the earlier parole board decision, and granted Latimer day parole stating that there was low risk that Latimer would re-offend.[20] Latimer was released from William Head Prison and began his day parole in Ottawa in March. On his release he expressed his plan to press for a new trial and for identification of the pain medication that the 2001 Supreme Court ruling suggested he could have used instead of killing his daughter.[21][22]

Public debate

Support for Latimer

A 1999 poll found that 73% of Canadians believed that Latimer acted out of compassion and should receive a more lenient sentence. The same poll found that 41% believe that mercy killing should not be illegal.[23] Ethicist Arthur Schafer argued that Robert Latimer was "the only person in Canadian history to spend even a single day in prison for a mercy killing" and that compassion and common sense dictated a reduced sentence and the granting of parole.[24][25] In their book, "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", James Rachels and Stuart Rachels present Robert Latimer's actions sympathetically.[26]

Support for Latimer's conviction and sentence

Numerous disability rights groups obtained intervenor status in the Latimer's appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that killing a severely disabled child like Tracy is no different than killing a non-disabled child and should carry the same penalty. To do otherwise, they argued, would devalue the lives of disabled people and increase the risk of more such killings by their caregivers.[27] Religious groups representing the Roman Catholic church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also appeared as intervenors in Latimer's Supreme Court appeal.

Latimer's 2007 application for day-parole was rejected primarily because he still denied any wrongdoing. Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne argued that the National Parole Board was right to expect remorse on Latimer's part, because to do otherwise might inspire others to similar actions.[28]


  1. ^ a b Driedger, Sharon Doyle; Leslie Perreaux (November 17, 1997). "Latimer Convicted, Again (Nov97 Updates)". Maclean's. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  2. ^ Butler, Don (2008-03-18). "Latimer wants new jury trial". Canwest News Service. Retrieved 2008-03-27.  
  3. ^ "An honor to have known her". Maclean's. November 28, 1994.  
  4. ^ Jenish, D'Arcy; Tom Fennell, Sharon Doyle Driedger, Luke Fisher and Art Robinson (November 28, 1994), "What would you do?", Maclean's  
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Perreaux, Leslie (October 31, 1997). "Tracy faced lifetime of surgery, doctor says". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix.  
  6. ^ "R. v. Latimer, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 217". Supreme Court of Canada. February 6, 1997. Retrieved 2007-08-27.  
  7. ^ a b c d e f "R. v. Latimer, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 3, 2001 SCC 1, I 6". Supreme Court of Canada. January 18, 2001. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  8. ^ a b Examination-in-chief of Dr Anne K. Dzus, Latimer v. Her Majesty the Queen, Appellant's Record Book, File # 26980
  9. ^ a b Canadian Press (September 21, 2006). "Robert Latimer counting down the days to parole". Retrieved 2007-01-29.  
  10. ^ Walkon, Thomas (2001-01-18). "'I don't think I did any wrong' 'Most people don't understand this was unique. There are some things that are unique,' Robert Latimer says on eve of Supreme Court ruling ; Latimer awaits today's verdict on daughter's 1993 death". Toronto Sun.  
  11. ^ a b {{cite web In her sworn medical testimony, Dr. Dzus described Tracy's medical condition as follows, "She had one of the worst forms of cerebral palsy in that she was totally body involved. Her total body was involved from her head right down to her toes so all four limbs, her brain, her back, everything was involved so she was as severe as they -- in the classification that we have for cerebral palsy." (8) | last = O'Malley | first = Martin | authorlink = | coauthors = Owen Wood | title = 'Cruel & unusual': The law and Latimer | work = | publisher = CBC News | date = December 17, 2003 | url = | format = | doi = | accessdate = 2007-01-27}}
  12. ^ "Latimer appeals for leniency". CBC News. June 15, 2000. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  13. ^ Depalma, Anthony (December 1, 1997). "Father's killing of Canadian girl: Mercy or murder?". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  14. ^ a b "Supreme Court will hear Latimer's appeal". CBC News. May 7, 1999. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  15. ^ "Appeal Court gives Latimer life sentence". CBC News. November 23, 1998. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  16. ^ "Parole board denies Latimer's bid for partial freedom". CBC News. December 5, 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-05.  
  17. ^ Latimer denied early prison release, by Justine Hunter
  18. ^ "Latimer appeals denial of early parole". CBC News. January 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  19. ^ "Latimer appeals parole board decision". Toronto Star. January 23, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-23.  
  20. ^ Mulgrew, Ian (February 27, 2008). "Robert Latimer granted day parole". Canwest News Service. Retrieved 2008-02-27.  
  21. ^ "Latimer in Saskatchewan, visiting ailing mother". Canwest News Service. March 15, 2008. Retrieved 2008-03-19.  
  22. ^ El Akkad, Omar (March 18, 2008). "Latimer faces uphill battle". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2008-03-19.  
  23. ^ "Three quarters (73%) of Canadians believe Robert Latimer ended his daughter's life out of compassion". Ipsos News Center. January 10, 1999. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  24. ^ Schafer, Arthur (2007-12-07). "Justice denied: Latimer case exposes flaws in legal system". Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2008-01-22.  
  25. ^ Schafer, Arthur (January 2001). "Top judges got it wrong in this case". Retrieved 2007-01-28.  
  26. ^ Rachels, James, and Rachels, Stuart, The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 5th edition (New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007), pp. 8-11.
  27. ^ MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman (October 1998). "Factum of the intervenors, C. A. No. 7413/7416". Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Retrieved 2007-01-27.  
  28. ^ Coyne, Andrew (December 19, 2007). "Justice means having to say you're sorry: Releasing Latimer now in the face of his impenitence would put public safety at risk". Maclean's. Retrieved 2008-01-22.  

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