House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was tribunal.

Topics

Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Is it agreed?

Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 1.30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

October 26th, 2001 / 12:10 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize and uphold, in its treatment of requests for the royal prerogative of mercy, the principle that the lives of all Canadians, including the lives of persons with disabilities, must be treated, and be perceived to be treated, equally under the law.

Madam Speaker, it is my honour to move Motion No. M-372 today for debate in the House. The motion asks cabinet to consider carefully the security of persons with disabilities when considering any request for the royal prerogative of mercy.

The motion has a threefold purpose: to provide an opportunity for parliamentarians to discuss an issue which is not yet in the public arena but will be imminently; to give cabinet direction on an issue important to millions of persons with disabilities; and to offer assurances to persons with disabilities and their families that their government is protecting their rights and their lives under the law.

What caused me to write this motion was the announcement last spring from the legal team for Robert Latimer that they would be requesting his early release for the second degree murder conviction of his daughter Tracy.

The Latimer case has achieved such a level of notoriety in Canada by now that I am not sure delving too deeply into the details will serve a great purpose. However I know the effect this crime has had on the thousands of persons with disabilities and their families.

Since that October morning almost eight years ago when Robert Latimer sat his 12 year old daughter Tracy in the cab of his truck, piped in carbon monoxide and gassed her to death, it would be fair to say that all persons with disabilities have been on a rollercoaster ride as they waited to see how the courts of the land would deal with the case.

Thousands of persons with disabilities and those who love them and care for them were watching and waiting as the Latimer case wound its way through the courts. They were waiting and holding their breath, holding their hearts really, to hear with what severity the highest court in the land would judge the murder of one of society's most vulnerable, because the severity of that judgment would send a clear message out to all Canadians about the seriousness of committing a crime against a person with a disability. So they waited and they held their breath.

I remember a witness who came before the disability subcommittee during that long period of waiting said “If Robert Latimer's crime goes unpunished, if it is okay for him to take his daughter's life, then it casts doubt about the meaning of my whole life, which is bound up in 24 hour caring for a severely disabled daughter, and it fills me with great fear”.

I heard from a woman with multiple disabilities who said “What if I have a bad day or a bad month or a bad year? Does that mean that my caregiver may decide that it is the compassionate thing to end it for me?”

These are horrible things to contemplate, yet they are always on the minds of people who are vulnerable. They are much concerned about the fact that it was the father who was getting all of the attention, not the daughter Tracy whose life had been taken.

The Canadian Association for Community Living published the book Our Lives, Our Voices: Families Talk About Lives Worth Living . As stated therein, the book was published because, “We are concerned that in the outpouring of support for mercy for Robert Latimer, there has been little attention to the court evidence about Tracy's joy for life. With a series of stories which families have shared, we wanted to help others to appreciate the value and love that we have for our children”.

In that book one father from Ontario said that the principal reason they are at odds with Robert Latimer is that he placed a lower value on his daughter's life because she was disabled. He had options that he did not pursue and chose to dispense with his daughter as he would a sick farm animal.

These are some of the comments that I have heard and read. They are deeply painful and fearful comments from members of the community of persons with disabilities as they awaited a decision to be handed down from the highest court of the land.

Lo and behold, on January 18, 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the conviction and minimum 10 year sentence for Robert Latimer for the murder of his daughter Tracy. By doing so, it made a very important statement about Tracy Latimer's equality under the law.

With its decision, the supreme court recognized that the charter of rights guarantees to every Canadian the right to life and security of the person and to equal protection under the law, regardless of mental or physical disability.

In its decision, the supreme court recognized that denunciation of unlawful conduct is one of the objectives of sentencing recognized in section 718 of the criminal code.

Denunciation becomes much more important in the consideration of sentencing in cases where there is a high degree of planning and premeditation and where the offence and the consequences are highly publicized so that like-minded people may well be deterred by severe sentences. This is particularly in so far as a victim is a vulnerable person with respect to AIDS, disability or other similar factors.

The minimum sentence of 10 years was upheld for Robert Latimer for taking the life of his daughter Tracy, but unfortunately this painful story does not seem to be over. Although a special request for clemency has not yet been filed, robertlatimer.com, the friends of the family website, has announced that an application for clemency will be coming in the near future.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is actively circulating a petition calling for the release of Robert Latimer under the royal prerogative of mercy section of the criminal code.

My motion today calls upon cabinet to think long and hard about granting any royal prerogative of mercy which will decrease the level of security of persons with disabilities. I believe the real message that cabinet would be sending if it reduces Latimer's sentence is that murdering a person with a disability is not as serious a crime, ergo persons with disabilities are not equal under the law.

We hear a lot about security right now. Security is a very emotionally charged word since the horrifying events of September 11. Do not misunderstand me. I believe we need to increase our airport and border security, but we seem to miss the point of what security means for many people with disabilities.

Security means having access to services, employment, housing and health care, knowing that they will not be blocked at every turn from doing the things that others can do. Security also means not being afraid of being reliant upon others for support, literally for life itself.

The biggest case around this form of security has been the public debate over the conviction of Robert Latimer for murdering his daughter Tracy. This is a case where the media has kept the focus on the criminal, not on the victim. There seems to be a feeling that the life of Tracy Latimer was worth less than our lives because she had a specific medical condition.

The suggestion from a trial judge in Saskatchewan was that the punishment should be two years instead of ten. That is about 20% of what a normal sentence should be. The judge tried to put into law an argument which could have become a precedent that the life of a person with a disability can be discounted like a T-shirt at Zellers on a sales day. I am thankful that the Supreme Court of Canada refused to allow that argument to stand.

The danger now, however, is that there is a movement which says that the trial judge got it right, that the supreme court got it wrong, and that cabinet should grant clemency to Robert Latimer. This movement is not small. As I have already said, it includes such organizations as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association which even has its own website extolling the virtues of a loving father.

I do not understand how an organization which uses the motto “The freedom of no one is safe unless the freedom of everyone is safe” does not understand the inherent danger in saying that there should be exceptions in our justice system available for “compassionate fathers who kill their daughters”.

It is not up to me to decide if Robert Latimer loved his daughter. It is not up to me to make a judgment of Tracy's medical condition. It is not up to me to retry any specific case that already has been before the courts. As a matter of fact, elected representatives are the last people who should be trying individual cases.

However as a parliamentarian it is up to me to uphold the law. It is our job as parliamentarians to tell the cabinet our opinion on how the law should be applied when it comes to the specific section of the criminal code dealing with mercy.

The law says that if one is convicted of second degree murder the sentence is life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years. The law does not say unless one is a loving father, unless one's victim has a severe disability, unless one is a good farmer or unless one has good lawyers. As a matter of fact our law is quite devoid of loopholes for murder and I am thankful for that.

If clemency is to be used in the Latimer case, a message is sent to the thousands of caregivers, who vulnerable people rely on for their basic existence, that the consequences for unilaterally deciding to harm someone in a person's care will be different if it is believed it is in that person's best interest.

Our job today is to send a message out to the cabinet room that we should be ever mindful of the real and perceived security needs of people with disabilities, our neighbours who have to rely on others for their daily activities.

A colleague from this place recently asked me why I think that people with disabilities are not already considered fully in this context. I think the record speaks for itself. Our history, even our recent history, shows us that people with disabilities are most often the last considered and the first forgotten in matters of public policy.

We are a society that too often rewards the strong and the loud and forgets the weak and the vulnerable. That is why we in the House of Commons must be their voice. We must remember we had a physical sterilization of this community as a matter of public policy in parts of Canada as recently as 50 years ago.

We have seen recent cuts from the government to income support programs such as CPP disability, to provincial social assistance supports, to the construction of affordable and accessible housing, and to employment programs. The fear that they may be undervalued again, as I believe the Saskatchewan trial judge undervalued Tracy Latimer, is a well founded fear.

In closing, I ask members of the House to speak out in favour of this motion. We need to send Canadians with disabilities a message. We need to say that we have heard them and we will not apply laws that discounts their lives. We need to send a clear message to the cabinet that all Canadians are equal and that as a House of Commons we do not believe that the punishment for taking any life should be diminished because of the ability of the victim.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

12:20 p.m.

Waterloo—Wellington
Ontario

Liberal

Lynn Myers Parliamentary Secretary to the Solicitor General of Canada

Madam Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to Motion No. 372 presented by the member for Dartmouth. As hon. members well know, our system of laws is generally intended to serve the common good and all individuals are treated equally before the law.

I also believe there are times when the application of law may lead to unintended or unanticipated consequences for an individual. This may result in the imposition of an undue hardship or an inequity out of proportion to the nature of the offence or of the sentence, for that matter.

It may also be that there exists no other legal remedy to redress such an inequality and inequity in that all legal avenues normally available have in fact been exhausted. When such a situation arises the individual may seek recourse in what is known as a royal prerogative of mercy or clemency.

The royal prerogative of mercy is little understood by the majority of Canadians. Indeed it may not be fully understood by some members of the House.

Historically the royal prerogative of mercy is the oldest form of redress or intervention to right a wrong or correct an injustice. It originates from the absolute power of monarchs, kings, queens and emperors to dispense justice or to exercise mercy. They could sentence someone to prison and they could shorten the sentence if it were considered too harsh. They could sentence someone to death and they could commute that death sentence at will.

Of course much has changed since the time of monarchs who ruled with unfettered power. Today justice is administered under what we know to be the rule of law. The exercise of unfettered authority has been replaced with a system of laws administered by an independent judiciary according to clearly defined procedures that ensure due process for all concerned. That is as it should be.

However, as I said at the outset, there may well be individual circumstances when the rule of law and due process result in unintended consequences and the individual has no recourse but to seek clemency under the royal prerogative of mercy.

In Canada the royal prerogative of mercy is exercised by the Governor General under letters patent which stipulate the powers of that office or the governor in council under the criminal code. The royal prerogative of mercy is not a single remedy. It is not a one size fits all. Rather it can take a number of different forms to address the unique circumstances of an individual.

This is important to understand because when most people think of the royal prerogative they envisage that it somehow implies an individual is exonerated from a guilty verdict and that the sentence imposed by the court is eradicated. That is only true in the case of what is known as a free pardon, which is the ultimate and most rarely granted of the remedies available.

A free pardon is extended only in those cases when it has been demonstrated that somebody is wrongfully convicted, but there is already provision in the criminal code to deal with people who are wrongfully convicted. They may appeal to the Attorney General of Canada for a new trial, for example, under section 690 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

There have been no cases in the past 20 years where a free pardon has been granted to an individual who was wrongfully convicted of a criminal code offence. Recourse has always and was always sought under section 690 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Another remedy available under the royal prerogative of mercy is a conditional pardon. It too can take different forms. It could, for example, result in the release of people from imprisonment earlier than would otherwise be allowed under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. However they would remain under sentence subject to the supervision and control of a parole officer.

Another form of conditional pardon could include a remission of the remainder of the sentence, which can only be granted by the Governor General, and the setting aside of the criminal record under the Criminal Records Act.

There have also been many instances where a judicial error or an anomaly in the administration of justice could only be addressed under the royal prerogative of mercy.

For example, it could happen that a court has no record or has lost a record of a fine having been paid thereby rendering an applicant ineligible for a pardon under the Criminal Records Act.

I would like to underline that clemency is granted only in exceptional circumstances and only in very deserving cases involving those who have been convicted of federal offences. It is an ultimate recourse when all other avenues have been exhausted.

It deals with the circumstances of an individual who was convicted and on whom a sentence was imposed, and determines whether that sentence resulted in an undue hardship that was not intended by either the legislators or the judiciary.

Consider also the case of an individual, sentenced to life for second degree murder, who is diagnosed as suffering from a serious disorder of the central nervous system, resulting in paralysis and impaired speech. The medical prognosis is poor and doctors unanimously recommend transfer to a chronic care facility.

Clemency might be granted in such a case because further incarceration may constitute a more severe hardship than would otherwise have been foreseen. It may be that the offender cannot be adequately cared for in a prison setting.

Clemency in such a case might take the form of a conditional pardon resulting in release from prison under the supervision of a parole officer. The guilty verdict still stands and the applicant continues to serve his or her sentence under conditions of parole supervision and monitoring in the community.

The royal prerogative of mercy is exercised according to general principles which have evolved over time and which are meant to ensure a fair and equitable process.

First, the independence of the judiciary must be respected in that there must be stronger and more specific grounds to recommend action that might counter a court's decision.

Second, the applicant must have exhausted all other avenues available under the criminal code or other pertinent legislation. The royal prerogative of mercy is not intended to replace that process.

Third, the royal prerogative of mercy is intended only for those exceptional cases in which consideration of justice, humanity and compassion override the normal administration of justice.

Fourth, and most important, there must be evidence of substantial injustice or undue hardship out of proportion to the nature of the offence or the intended consequence of a particular sanction. In assessing this, each application is strictly examined on its own merits.

Clemency will not be considered where the difficulty experienced by an individual applicant results from the normal consequences of the application of law. It is not a mechanism to review the merits of existing legislation or those of the judicial system in general.

The royal prerogative of mercy is used very sparingly. It is granted only in instances when there is evidence of undue hardship beyond the intended consequences of a sentence and only in cases where there is no other legal remedy. It is unfettered in that it can apply a remedy that is best suited to an individual circumstance.

The motion before us seeks the support of the members of the House for the principle that, in the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy, the lives of all Canadians must be treated and perceived to be treated equally under the law. The motion also underlines the fact that this should include the lives of persons with disabilities.

If we interpret the motion from the point of view of the applicant for clemency, I would submit that by its very nature the royal prerogative of mercy already focuses principally on the individual. It is concerned solely with the applicant, not with the circumstances of others, be they family members, friends or others in the community.

If the member's motion is aimed at the victim, then I would ask hon. members in the House to consider whether it is appropriate for us to place limits or qualifications on the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy. I would also ask whether indeed this House has the constitutional authority to impose such limits.

I hope my comments have shed some light on this very important matter. It is a matter of great interest to many Canadians. Clearly, I wanted to be able to outline some of the points that were raised in my speech because I consider them to be important with respect to the motion.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

12:30 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jason Kenney Calgary Southeast, AB

Madam Speaker, at the outset, I would like to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Dartmouth, for having brought the motion before the House. I understand it is an issue close to her heart.

It is sometimes difficult as an elected legislator to bring forward conscientious positions which may be morally right but which may not be politically right. She certainly has done so in this motion. I commend her for her principle and her courage in so doing.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should recognize and uphold, in its treatment of requests for the royal prerogative of mercy, the principle that the lives of all Canadians, including the lives of persons with disabilities, must be treated, and be perceived to be treated, equally under the law.

It is quite clear that the motion implicitly addresses the particular situation of Robert Latimer who was convicted of killing his daughter Tracy and is serving a sentence of 10 years. It is also a general application. I do not mean to suggest that it would apply in that one case only. It is also a motion with general application and a principle that is extremely important.

I regret that apparently a majority of Canadians believe that Mr. Latimer should receive the royal prerogative of clemency and have his sentence curtailed by an executive order of the governor in council, by cabinet. I gather most Canadians believe this because they regard the actions of Mr. Latimer as somehow having been morally justified if not morally obligatory, that is to say, to have killed his severely disabled daughter.

I think what the member for Dartmouth seeks to do is to remind us, as parliamentarians and as Canadians citizens, that we cannot and must not make distinctions between human persons and their right to life. Therein lies the first principle, not just of the motion but of our entire legal system and, I would suggest, western civilization. That is to say, the sanctity of human life and the notion that the right to take life can only exist in self-defence, and that to take the life of individuals because of the circumstances of their life, be it their ethnicity, religion, age, social or economic condition or their physical and mental condition is to violate the very first premise upon which a society founded on the rule of law exists. That principle is the inviolable dignity of the human person.

The first words of our Constitution Act, 1982 read:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles which recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.

That sentence, so often missed and misunderstood in our jurisprudence and in our public debates, is so central to this premise. What it says is that the rights which we possess, the rights of which the charter speaks, are not rights granted by the state, by a legislature or by a court, nor are they rights that can be abrogated by any of those institutions. Rather, these are rights that are inherent and inalienable in the human person. If they are inalienable, they are and must be granted by a creator.

No man, no parliament, no father, even a father in great emotional turmoil and confusion, has the right to suspend and to violate the inalienable dignity of the human person.

This principle perhaps was most beautifully articulated in the preamble to the American declaration of independence, which is a foundational document of modern liberal democracy, where Thomas Jefferson wrote that:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life--

Men and women have certain inalienable rights. They cannot be alienated by even a grieving father wishing, in his subjective mind, to put a handicapped daughter out of her misery.

While I can understand to some degree the anguish of some parents of severely disabled children, I also recognize the heroism of many more parents and adoptive parents of severely disabled children who exercise compassion every day, not through the ease of terminating the life of their child but through their compassion of giving themselves wholly to their children.

Compassion is a concept much misunderstood in our public discourse. Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for somebody. It quite literally means, in its etymological root, com-passion. Passion means to suffer with, not to suffer with a disabled person and take away the person's right to life.

The motion and the principle to which it speaks is critically important because, as the parliamentary secretary sort of dodged around, there is a large public movement to seek royal clemency for Mr. Latimer and people who may be in a similar circumstance in the future. Should this or a future cabinet bend to that political pressure, it will, I submit, undermine and unravel the very basis of our jurisprudence, our rule of law and our right to claim we are a civilized society.

At various times in history, individuals, politicians and jurors have sought to make qualitative distinctions between different categories of human beings and to assign to those different categories different degrees of rights.

What comes to mind of course is the infamous Dred Scott decision by the U.S. supreme court in 1857 wherein that court ascribed to African-Americans the status of only four-fifths of a human being and thereby denied them the inalienable rights about which the American declaration spoke.

In the century just passed, what John Paul II has referred to as the century of tears, we have seen one brutal, horrific example after another of state systems, most notoriously the Nazi system, which again made a qualitative distinction between different human beings based on arbitrary criteria, in that case race and religion.

When such distinctions are made, we unleash a juggernaut of violence against the innocent. That is what happened in an isolated example when Tracy Latimer was killed.

Let us not forget that the Nazi movement started its reign of terror and death, not with the execution of Jews in the Holocaust but rather with the eugenics program which sought to eliminate those who were deemed imperfect because of some condition of life, such as being mentally or physically disabled.

Josef Mengele and his evil peers did things to people in a way perhaps much more cold-bloodedly than what Robert Latimer did to his own daughter. They looked at human beings as not being human beings and decided they had the right to remove their dignity that God had granted them. That is a notion we cannot and must not ever accept.

I will close by submitting that we ought to pass the motion and direct the cabinet never to grant clemency to someone who has alienated the inviolable right to life of a person because of his or her mental or physical condition.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

12:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to be able to join in the debate today. I want to, as did my colleague from Calgary, commend my colleague from Dartmouth for bringing forward this very important motion. She brings a very unique perspective to it, one that she is willing to stand up for strongly. I applaud her for that.

I, too, want to focus on the motion as it relates to the Latimer case, which is of course what much of the debate is focused on so far today.

I want to begin by reading a bit from the decision of the supreme court. I would point out that Mr. Latimer's actions were purposeful, with intent and with consequences. In part the supreme court said:

--Tracy could have been fed with a feeding tube into her stomach, an option that would have improved her nutrition and health, and that might also have allowed for more effective pain medication to be administered...The Latimers rejected the feeding-tube option as being intrusive and as representing the first step on a path to preserving Tracy's life artificially.

Tracy had a serious disability, but she was not terminally ill. Her doctors anticipated that she would have to undergo repeated surgeries, her breathing difficulties had increased, but her life was not in its final stages.

Tracy enjoyed music, bonfires, being with her family and the circus. She liked to play music on a radio, which she could use with a special button. Tracy could apparently recognize family members and she would express joy at seeing them. Tracy also loved being rocked gently by her parents.

Further on in the decision, the court stated:

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. According to the appellant's wife, Laura Latimer, further surgery was perceived as mutilation. As a result, Robert Latimer formed the view that his daughter's life was not worth living.

In the weeks leading up to Tracy's death, the Latimers looked into the option of placing Tracy in a group home in North Battleford. She had lived there between July and October of 1993, just prior to her death, while her mother was pregnant. The Latimers applied to place Tracy in the home in October, but later concluded they were not interested in permanently placing her in that home at that time.

There are some things that get lost in the debate and one is Tracy's story. Much of the focus has been on Mr. Latimer and the discussion around whether or not it is fair for him to serve out his 10 year sentence and that this is an unreasonable sentence placed on him.

I would argue that we need to focus on Tracy, and those who would be in a similar situation if others made the same choice with their children. If an individual acts with wilful intent, premeditated, planned event, our laws state that that is clearly against and in violation of the laws of this land.

As others have said, we can understand the difficulties that the Latimers went through, and many other Canadians go through similar circumstances, but in the end, the act that was committed was an act of the will. It was wilfully done, with full knowledge of consequences that would be received after that action was taken.

I believe we would be setting a very dangerous precedent if the cabinet were to go ahead with the prerogative of mercy in this case, or others, in making a statement about the value of life. Either we believe that all life is equal and there is an inalienable right to life by all or we do not. There simply is no middle ground. We can argue that there is a middle ground, but really what we are talking about is a moral divide, a philosophy that would say that we must take into account all considerations, basically, a relativistic point of view that truth is relative and that there are no moral absolutes.

The other perspective is one of moral absolutes, that there is such a thing as right and wrong. That is the foundation of this debate and it will be played out in many different ways and many different examples given. However, at the end of the debate, that is the question we must answer. Was this action right or wrong? The courts determined the action was wrong and the law was applied.

Are we then to say that the message sent by the courts, as determined by the laws of the land, will be revoked later on? That sends a very disturbing message, particularly to families who are dealing with a similar circumstance, who have disabled children. It sends a very disturbing message to all disabled people.

It is my belief, and I am speaking for myself in this debate, that what Mr. Latimer did was wrong and that he needs to accept those consequences. We need to send that message, through the decision, that those who would take similar actions would receive the same kind of consequences. When a society devalues the life of one, the doors open to the devaluation of other people as well. When we open that door, it is a very hard door to close. We must send a message that all life is valuable and of the same value.

When we look at the debates around the quality of life, this must be in my opinion the focal point, that all life is equal and valuable regardless of the circumstances, some of which may be very painful and difficult circumstances for families or individuals to go through.

However what happens is the perspective can change. If we focus on what could be if the person were not disabled and lament about the mark that will never be reached because of the disability, we lose focus of the joy and the great things that can happen together as a family and as individuals. If we refocus on what we have rather than on what we do not have, our perspective changes.

I read some stories about parents and disabled children in a book that was given to me by my colleague from Dartmouth. It was very clear with the parents of disabled children, who came through that battle of expectations and realizations that a certain quality of life would not be achieved because of a particular disability, that the quality of life which was there was one that would be embraced and accepted. When that notion is embraced, the joy, the pain and the sorrow we all experience, and which is common to parents of disabled children and disabled people in general, is a human condition to all families.

In the debate today I would hope that we focus on that key issue, the value of human life and that we send a message to our constituents, the people of this land, that we do value life. Because we do value life, we would encourage the government not to send a conflicting message by allowing an individual who has committed this act to then receive the royal prerogative of mercy.

We have an opportunity, as leaders in the nation, to speak on the issue and I am sure we will have different opinions. In the end we must look at that fundamental question of the inalienable rights of each individual and the rights of all people in our country. Let us send the right message.

I close by congratulating my colleague from Dartmouth once again. I hope that we can send a strong message united together in this place on this motion.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Karen Kraft Sloan York North, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise in the House today to offer a few words in support of the motion. I thank the hon. member for Dartmouth for bringing this very important issue to the attention of the House.

I ask members to look at the motion. At the heart of it is the principle of the necessity that all Canadians, including those who have disabilities, be treated and be perceived to be treated equally under the law.

When I first read the motion I had to ask myself how we could consider ourselves as members of a civilized society unless we ensured the protection of all, especially those among us who need the greatest amount of care. Another question I had was how we as members of the House could say that we have a hierarchy of values, that we value some Canadians more than we value others.

We have tremendous sympathy for families and caregivers of individuals with severe disabilities. There are huge pressures on these families. I know of individuals in my riding of York North who have family members who have chronic disabilities or who are in a state of dealing with terminal cancer. People have had to give up their jobs to be in their homes to take care of their loved ones.

There are tremendous pressures within the family in dealing with different family members themselves. How does one deal with young children, pre-school age children when there is a parent or a spouse who has a severe disability? How does one take care of these people? The pressures are tremendous.

We have to be proactive. We have to provide support for these individuals. We have to ensure that respite care is available, that there are good supports in the community around social services and medical services. Home care is essential in delivering these services.

As the member for Dartmouth puts forward in her motion, it is for us to look through the eyes of the person with the disability. It is not just a matter of looking at the caregiver. It is not just looking at the father who stopped his child's life. We have to look at the challenges those individuals themselves face.

Life is extremely precious. It is not for others to decide when life is no longer worth living. Despite the hardships, despite the pain, despite the difficulties, it is up to the individuals themselves to make that decision.

As the member for Dartmouth and others in the House have said, this motion essentially deals with a particular issue which involved a child. I would ask members to remember that Tracy was an individual with a disability but she was also a child. I am wondering if something else is not at work here as well.

Children in our society are often voiceless. They do not have the right to vote because they are under the age of 18. It is often very difficult to hear their voices and their concerns in the policies that affect government and the things we do as a nation.

Children have rights. Some Canadians, in fact even some members of the House, reject the idea that children have rights. Certainly under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child these rights are clearly spelled out. Somehow the fact that children have rights themselves that are inherent in them because of who they are as people is seen as a challenge against the family itself.

I ask the House whether this case is before us not only because Tracy was a person with a disability but also because Tracy was a child.

Some very good points have been brought forward by members of the House. They are very important points. They speak to us as to the kind of society we are and the kind of society we want to have. They talk to the rule of law. They talk to the very basic principles of a civilized society.

I want to thank the member for Dartmouth very much for bringing forward the motion in the House today. She has provided a voice for Tracy Latimer, a voice that has in many cases been silenced.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill Dartmouth, NS

Madam Speaker, it has been a wonderful debate. I thank everyone who has taken part in the debate and who has dug deeply into their own sense of justice and vulnerability and possibly their own experiences with persons with disabilities. They have been honest and caring. I would like to make some comments about what has been said and then read a bit more from a mother of a child very similar to Tracy Latimer in terms of her disabilities and maybe in terms of her joy for life.

The speaker for the government, the first speaker, talked about the various kinds of cases in which clemency may be brought about. I did not find any real comfort in that. I was not sure how he was instructing us in terms of this case, but he did make a point about the fact that he thought the motion was aimed mainly at the victim in this instance. I have to say that I believe the motion is aimed at the millions of people in the country who are suffering from a disability or who are looking after persons with disabilities. There is nothing particularly narrow about the motion. It really does reach out into the hearts of people everywhere.

I was happy with the comments from the member from Calgary on the concept that the general principle the motion is dealing with is extremely important and that is the sanctity of life. He quoted from the preamble to the American declaration of independence, which states “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men” and women “are created equal” with certain “unalienable rights”, including the right to life.

He also recognized the heroism of parents of children with disabilities. I have to say that I see it every day in the 24 hour care and the effort that goes into looking after children with disabilities. It is not of course something that people choose to do and possibly is not something that at age 20 they ever thought they would be doing or would ever choose, but the fact is it becomes their lives. Caring for our loved ones, whatever their level of ability, is the core of their lives and let us not think it is anything else. Our lives become a journey of taking care of what is required to look after the people we love. The idea of exercising that difficult compassion is the daily stuff of just doing it and just taking care of people.

I appreciated the comments of the member for Dewdney--Alouette in questioning what happens if others make choices for their children that would end their lives and what it does to the thousands of others who are trying to care for their children. Was the action right or wrong? The court determined that it was wrong. The Supreme Court of Canada finally said it was a case of second degree murder and the minimum sentence is 10 years.

As the member said, when society devalues one we open the door to devaluing many others. We need to send a strong message to constituents that we do value life and not send a conflicting message by granting the prerogative of mercy.

I appreciated the comments of the member for York North about the principle of treating all Canadians equally under the law. How can we, as members of the House, have a hierarchy of values for some? She mentioned the huge pressures on families who are in need of respite care, social services and home care and said that we have to be conscious of those things. She also mentioned the fact that children do have rights but asked if we are not sometimes forgetting them in light of many issues.

I will close with the words of a mother of a daughter who has a disability:

--we cannot lose sight of the fact that murders that are motivated by compassion, the victims almost in every case are vulnerable people--people who are sick, aged, or who have a disability. My daughter will decide when it is time for her to leave this earth--no one else has the right to make that decision for her or to take her life from her.

I appreciate all the comments I have heard in the House and the hundreds of people who have given us strength with their comments over the years on this issue. I believe we have given some very important instructions to the Government of Canada today.

Royal Prerogative of Mercy
Private Members' Business

1 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. Since the motion was not selected as a votable item, the item is dropped from the order paper.

It being 1.05 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1.05 p.m.)