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.