Thursday, December 06, 2007

The law isn't "a ass", it's a bully

The case of Robert Latimer must be the all-time Gordian knot of Canadian jurisprudence. I feel now pretty much the same way I felt ten years ago when he was on trial. What he did was wrong, but understandable. I felt that the jury and the judge in that trial reached the correct balance. Robert Latimer was guilty of the murder of his disabled daughter, Tracy, by poisoning her with carbon monoxide. He contended that he did it out of compassion, because Tracy's pain stemming from cerebral palsy was unceasing, and all she had to look forward to was operation after operation throughout a tortured life. The judge and jury all understood and accepted his claim, and he was sentenced to one year in minimum security and a year of house arrest. To me, this was an act of tough mercy very much in keeping with Latimer's own for his daughter. It sent the message that society could not condone one person taking it upon himself to take the life of another, but also accepted that this was not a crime of passion or hatred or utter disregard for others... it was anything but.

Understandably, the champions of the rights of the disabled were alarmed at the ruling, fearing it might encourage similar cases. They miss the point. Robert Latimer knew he was risking prison. But his love for his daughter and urge to end her suffering trumped that. It's hard to imagine any sentence in a supposedly compassionate society that would have dissuaded him.

The case was appealed and eventually went to the Supreme Court, where they overturned the sentence and applied the maximum in that case: life imprisonment. The Court said at the time it issued the ruling in denunciation of the act. The Court ignored that fact that the people of Canada, in the persons of the jurors, had already done so, to the extent that they, the people of Canada, saw fit. The Court was wrong, grasping, in its hammer-and-tong application of the letter of the law over the spirit, as expressed in Latimer's 1997 trial.

The parole board that heard and denied Latimer's plea for day release has committed the very same error as the Supreme Court in effect, and yet, this time, in denial of the law. Their mandate is to decide if Latimer represents a threat to society, not to weigh his conscience. He is a human being in a free country, and has the right to his own opinions with regard to his own actions. We all do. The parole board decided instead to play Orwellian games with this man who has himself suffered so much, and returned him to Room 101 until he will admit, against all personal logic, that 2+2=5 because Big Brother would have it so.

The Supreme Court and the parole board have between them short circuited the will of the Canadian people (as evidenced by today's Globe and Mail poll, running 86% opposed to the board's decision), and have performed a disservice to Canada that, in my opinion, brings the administration of justice into disrepute.

1 comment:

L-girl said...

I agree with you 100% about Latimer.

I just want to note that the people with disabilities who reject euthanasia do not "miss the point". That seems condescending to me, as if anyone who disagrees with us must not understand the issues.

It's not that people with disabilities (those who oppose euthanasia, at least) miss the point. It's that their perspective and concerns are very different than yours and mine.

Again, I'm in complete agreement with you about Latimer. I just want the perspective of people with disabilities to be heard and not put aside.