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Home / In the News / Around Canada / 25 years after conviction, Robert Latimer still believes he was right to kill his daughter

25 years after conviction, Robert Latimer still believes he was right to kill his daughter

Robert Latimer is adamant that he made the right decision.

The Saskatchewan farmer was convicted 25 years ago of killing his 12-year-old daughter, Tracy, who had severe disabilities. Latimer wants that conviction overturned.

Tracy Latimer had severe cerebral palsy and suffered chronic pain from repeated surgeries. She couldn’t walk, talk or feed herself. Robert maintains her pain was unbearable. She functioned with the mental capacity of a four-month-old infant.

Latimer killed Tracy in 1993 by pumping exhaust fumes into the cab of his truck.

“The harm I caused by her death would have been less than the pain inflicted by her life,” Latimer said on a recent grey-skied November afternoon.

It was pointless to torture our daughter any further.– Robert Latimer

The case was one of the most polarizing in Canadian legal history. It launched a national debate on euthanasia, the value of life and justice.

In the quiet kitchen on his family farm near Wilkie, Sask., Latimer, now a soft-spoken 66-year-old, says he hasn’t changed his mind about his actions.

“What I did was right. What they [the justice system and religious groups] did was wrong,” he said several times over the course of nearly two hours.

“It was pointless to torture our daughter any further. She had already had four operations. If she moved, her hip would go. She had rods in her back. She had been worked on enough.”

‘Sent to the gulag’

After two convictions, the first of which was thrown out due to jury tampering, Latimer was sentenced to a mandatory minimum life sentence with no chance of parole for 10 years. He served his time at a minimum-security institution near Victoria, B.C., beginning in 2001. He was granted full parole in 2010.

“I was sent to the gulag,” he said.

Latimer maintains he never got a fair trial.

“They rigged the jury. When it was found out, they did nothing about it.”

Latimer said he was subjected to a “judicial error.”

Latimer has been fighting for a pardon for more than a decade. In this 2008 photo, he looks through a binder of notes as he talks with the media in Ottawa.(Tom Hanson/The Canadian Press)

He now wants either a pardon or a new trial. In July 2018, Latimer’s lawyer, Jason Gratl, applied for a ministerial review on his behalf. In that application, Gratl said his client’s conviction is the kind of miscarriage of justice that merits a rare ministerial review.

“A pardon would offer a glimpse of mercy, compassion and justice that the legal system and the medical system did not afford to the Latimers,” Gratl wrote.

In an interview, he stressed the need for Latimer’s conviction to be eliminated from the official records.

A pardon would not change “the tragic fact of Tracy Latimer’s life and the circumstances of her death,” Gratl said.

“It’s not going to change the fact that Latimer was put to the terrible choice.”

Latimer said he knows the probability of new trial is very low, but that he will continue fighting to clear his name. He has spent the last few years writing letters to Supreme Court judges and politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

“It will drag on and on,” Latimer said.

The prime minister has the power to issue a pardon.

“I am hopeful. I have always been hopeful,” Latimer said.

Our grandson was in Grade 7 when he was taught the evil of us. He was taught garbage about us.– Robert Latimer

In his kitchen, Latimer pulled an envelope from a stack of legal documents and letters. It held the most recent response from the federal Ministry of Justice.

Dated June 20, 2019, and signed by Nigel Marshman, general counsel to the criminal conviction review group, the letter simply states, “The information he submitted was added to his file.”

When contacted by CBC News, the federal justice ministry said it would not be appropriate to comment on the details of a specific case. It specified there are four stages in the criminal conviction review process: preliminary assessment, investigation, preparation of an investigation report, and a decision by the minister.

Euthanasia debate unresolved

According to Latimer’s lawyer, the case poses fundamental, still-unresolved questions about euthanasia for people who lack the mental capacity to decide for themselves whether their life was worth living.

“It is yet to be addressed,” Gratl said. “It is still hanging out there. It is uncomfortable. It is a very difficult problem.”

He says his client’s case was instrumental in advancing legislation on assisted dying. But Latimer himself said current legal provisions are insufficient.

“They’ve got a ways to go,” he said.

“My daughter would still have been prohibited because she was too young. There is discrimination right there. She would have undergone torture.”

Damage and support

Latimer decried what he called a calculated campaign against his family from religious groups and disability rights advocates, saying they are a “sadistic bunch.”

“They set out to do a lot of damage and they did a lot of damage,” he said.

“Our grandson was in Grade 7 when he was taught the evil of us. He was taught garbage about us.”

Latimer, shown here near a playset on his family farm in Wilkie, Sask., in 2008, says the legal provisions for medically assisted suicide in Canada do not go far enough. (Geoff Howe/The Canadian Press)

Many still support Latimer in the small town of Wilkie.

Childhood friend Larry Goodale said Latimer was faced with an excruciating decision.

“I’ve known Robert all my life. It was a hard thing he did but I think he was right. It’s what it was. It took a lot of guts for what he did. I back him to this day,” Goodale said.

‘It’s hard not to think about it’

Latimer didn’t know how to answer a question about how he feels about his life now.

“It’s an out-there question,” he said with a laugh.

He said he enjoys the ability to travel overseas. After the Parole Board of Canada ruled he could travel outside Canada, he went to Peru. He spoke fondly of Machu Picchu.

He said he is still inhibited by the weight of his conviction.

“It’s hard not to think about it. I think about it every day.”

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