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Latimer, Robert (1953-)

Robert Latimer, a farmer from Wilkie, Saskatchewan, was born on March 13, 1953. In 1993 he was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy Lynn Latimer. On October 24 of that year, Latimer chose carbon monoxide poisoning to end the twelve years of suffering Tracy had experienced as a result of the severely debilitating form of cerebral palsy with which she was afflicted. Robert Latimer argued that his love for Tracy and his desire to put an end to her pain had driven him to this extreme action, and that it had been a compassionate and merciful solution to Tracy's illness. The circumstances of Tracy Lynn Latimer's death, and her father's trial, garnered worldwide interest. Proponents of euthanasia lobbied the judicial system for a ruling called “compassionate homicide,” recommending no prison time for Latimer. People with disabilities abhorred Latimer's actions, fearing the precedent that would be set if Latimer were not punished to the full extent of the law.

On November 16, 1994, a jury found Latimer guilty of second-degree murder; but the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ordered a new trial after finding that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police might have tainted the case by improperly questioning prospective jurors. In December 1997, Latimer was again found guilty of second-degree murder. The minimum sentence for second-degree murder was twenty-five years in jail with no chance of parole for ten years, but Judge Ted Noble gave Latimer a “constitutional exemption,” stating that Latimer acted out of love and compassion. He felt that based on section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms the mandatory minimum sentencing would be cruel and unusual punishment, and recommended that Latimer be eligible for parole after one year. However, in November 1998 the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal set aside Noble's sentence and imposed the mandatory sentence of at least ten years before becoming eligible for parole. After another appeal, in June 2000 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the life sentence for Latimer, with no chance of parole for ten years. They suggested, however, that Latimer should consider asking for clemency through the rarely used “Royal Prerogative of Mercy.” He refused to do so, maintaining that he had done the right thing by ending his daughter's suffering.

Elizabeth Mooney

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