Robert William (Bob) Latimer is one of the most controversial Canadian killers in Canadian history. Latimer was a canola and wheat farmer in Wilkie, Saskatchewan. He was married to a woman named Laura. They had four children together. Unfortunately his daughter Tracy was a severely handicapped child who would always have the mental capacity of an infant. An interruption of oxygen during Tracy’s birth caused her to develop cerebral palsy. She suffered from many side effects including seizures that were so violent medication couldn’t control them. She could neither walk nor talk. Tracy required constant care. The Latimer doctor claimed the family gave her exceptional care.
The worst symptom Tracy suffered was constant, severe pain. Once her mother took Tracy to the doctor. Laura had to hold up Tracy’s leg in the air, her knee bent. When Laura tried to move the leg, Tracy cried out in pain. The poor girl had a hip dislocation (bloody ouch) but couldn’t be given pain killers because they interfered with her anti-seizure medication. Tracy had several surgeries including a procedure to correct scoliosis, a condition where the spine grows in a severe “S” or “C” curve. Steel rods had to be inserted into poor Tracy’s back. The x-ray below shows a spin twisted into an “S” curve. Can you imagine living with that pain without pain killers?
According to some people outside of the family, Tracy seemed to enjoy her life on occasion. She lived intermittently in group homes. Workers there claimed she loved horses, and she had a love for music. “She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them.”
Tracy’s Medical Treatments
On October 19, 1993, the doctor scheduled surgery for Tracy’s dislocated hip. The surgery was risky. It could result in an entire hip reconstruction or her hip would remain attached to her body only by nerves and muscles. Ouch. The doctor speculated that recovery would take one year. Other doctors were involved in Tracy’s care told the Latimers that further surgeries for pain in the joints in her body would be required during the following year. Tracy’s life was one of ongoing surgeries and constant pain. The surgeon, Dr. Dzus reported that “the post operative pain can be incredible“and stated that the only useful short-term solution was an epidural to anesthetize the lower part of the body and help alleviate pain while Tracy was still in hospital. One wonders what type of painkillers, if any, Tracy would have received at home.
On October 24, 1993, Laura Latimer from a church service with her children to find Tracy dead. She died while at home with her father. At first Latimer maintained that Tracy died in her sleep, however, the autopsy revealed high levels of carbon monoxide in Tracy’s blood. Latimer confessed he killed his daughter by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck’s exhaust pipe to the cab. He said he considered other methods of killing Tracy, including Valium overdose and “shooting her in the head“. Apparently Latimer had yet to learn the meaning of “too much information.”
The media swarmed the Latimer farm and courthouse whenever Latimer made his appearance. The story sparked debates about the rights of people with physical and mental handicaps. The killing of Tracy Latimer was called an act of “compassionate homicide.” Others believed that leniency for Latimer, would show that the disabled are regarded as second-class citizens. The question of whether or not euthanasia should be legalized n Canada became a hot topic for discussion. Talk shows discussed the Latimer case. Newspapers carried the Latimer name in headlines. People lined up outside the courthouse to get a seat. Tracy’s death was big news and big business.
Latimer said his actions were motivated by love for Tracy and a desire to end her pain. He described the medical treatments Tracy had undergone and was scheduled to undergo as “mutilation and torture“. With the combination of a feeding tube, rods in her back, the leg cut and flopping around and bedsores, how can people say she was a happy little girl?” Latimer stated in court.
Latimer was charged with first-degree murder, convicted of second-degree murder by a jury, and sentenced to life imprisonment with no possibility of parole for 10 years. Upon hearing his sentence Latimer yelled at the jury that “you people have no sense of justice!” I remember the Latimer case. I read about it in a Reader’s Digest magazine while sitting in a doctor’s office. At the time I felt sympathy for the whole family including Latimer but I believed that no one had the right to committing euthanasia, no matter what the reason. Now with all the facts, and several years later, I think a little differently. That poor little child suffered every day. Her family was helpless to ease her anguish. Had I felt their grief over a family member in my home, I might have considered euthanizing little Tracy, too.
In June 1996, the original Crown prosecutor was charged with attempting to obstruct justice through jury tampering. in February 1997. After a new trial, Latimer was again found guilty of second-degree murder. At the sentencing hearing, Latimer’s lawyer argued he should be given a “constitutional exemption,” or that the judge should find the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years to be “cruel and unusual punishment” in the circumstances, and therefore a violation of Latimer’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. On 1 December 1997, the sentencing judge surprised many when he found that a 10-year sentence would indeed be “grossly disproportionate” to the offence. New legal ground was broken in December 1997, when Justice Ted Noble distinguished between mercy killing and cold-blooded murder. He sentenced Latimer to two years less a day, half of which would be served in a provincial jail and half on his farm.
On December 5, 2007 Latimer requested day parole from the National Parole Board in Victoria, BC. He told the board he believed killing his daughter was the right thing to do. The board denied his request, saying that Latimer had not developed sufficient insight into his actions, despite reports that said he was at low risk to reoffend. In February 2008, a review board overturned the earlier parole board decision, and granted Latimer day parole. Latimer was released from William Head Prison and began his day parole in Ottawa in March. Latimer was determined to prove himself right. On his release he stated that he planned to press for a new trial and for identification of the pain medication that the 2001 Supreme Court ruling suggested he could have used instead of killing his daughter, Finally, on November 29, 2010, Latimer was granted full parole.
Latimer told CTV.ca in a sit-down interview in Toronto on Monday, he didn’t expect that his decision to end Tracy’s life would trigger a storm that would envelop his own life for years to come. “It wasn’t anything to consider, it wasn’t a priority. (But)I didn’t think things would get so wild, I didn’t realize. I thought they would be more realistic than they were,” Latimer said, referring to prosecutors. “Tracy’s life was a pretty horrific event. I don’t think anybody in their right mind would volunteer to go through that kind of thing,” Latimer said. He believes the “majority” of Canadians would agree with the choice he made if given all the facts. A book written by Gary Buslaugh entitled Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Murder was released in 2010. In the book Buslaugh mentions that Latimer’s bad luck with juries began early in his life. At 21, he and a friend were convicted of sexual assault but under appeal it was overturned, due to excessive pressure on the jury.