By Heidi Janz, PhD
Multiple news outlets are reporting that Robert Latimer has submitted a letter to the Minister of Justice seeking a pardon or a new trial following his conviction for the murder of his daughter Tracy in 1993.
As a person with disabilities, and as a disability-rights advocate, I am, quite frankly, sickened by this development—for a number of reasons.
First of all, Latimer’s request for a pardon amounts to him declaring: “I was right to kill my daughter; the law was wrong. Medical Aid in Dying is now legal in Canada. Therefore, I should no longer continue to have to carry the stigma of being branded a convicted murder just because MAID wasn’t a legal option when Tracy was alive. And—did I mention? —I WAS RIGHT!”
What Latimer and his lawyers appear to be overlooking is that Medical Aid in Dying still isn’tlegal for minors in Canada. Or perhaps it’s not so much that they’re ignoring that fact as it is that they’re hoping to promote a reshaping of the law that will vindicate Robert Latimer (cause, you know, it’s ALL ABOUT HIM. ALWAYS.)
Secondly, there’s the issue of ongoing stigmatization. Except the stigmatization we should be worrying about isn’t Robert Latimer’s, but Tracy’s—and, along with her, that of all Canadians with disabilities. From the time Latimer was first arrested for killing Tracy, he portrayed his daughter as little more than a suffering bundle of flesh. And, from the beginning, the mainstream media was quick to promote this image of Tracy. This monolithic mainstream media portrayal of Tracy as constantly and intractably suffering continued throughout Latimer’s trials, even when testimony from Tracy’s mother and teachers clearly showed that Tracy was quite capable of enjoying her life. And today, two-and-half decades after Tracy Latimer was murdered by her father, some mainstream media reports about his petition for a pardon still described Tracy as a “bedridden quadriplegic,” despite the fact that Tracy rode the school bus to her school program right up until the weekend that her father murdered her.
Thirdly, and finally, like many other disability-rights advocates, I am sickened and alarmed by Robert Latimer’s petition for pardon because, contrary to the claim of Latimer’s lawyer that, “[g]ranting a pardon to Mr. Latimer does not detract from any value or principle,” pardoning Tracy’s killer would, in fact, signal an abandonment of the Government’s commitment to equality, justice, and ending discrimination against disabled Canadians.
Being a disabled Canadian could be about to get a whole lot scarier—again—thanks to Robert Latimer.
(Dr. Janz is the Chair, Ending of Life Ethics Committee Council of Canadians with Disabilities)