On Latimer, Lenience and Love

By Sass
Featured Rightgrrl May 1999
Founder, Write For Life

February 8, 2001

We repeatedly hear of the "brain drain" resulting in the exodus of Saskatchewan's brightest. One must only look as far as the numerous editorials and articles in support of Robert Latimer to verify the accuracy of those claims.

Les MacPherson (SP - Jan. 20/01) cries of the injustice in several cases where those found guilty of other murders have received sentences far too lenient. I concur. Often we are outraged at the ridiculously lenient sentences handed down. Should we argue those injustices by supporting the handing down of lenient sentences to other murderers, or should we argue and protest the lenient sentences?

Suggesting Latimer should receive lenience because others have unjustly received lenience, is taking the "two wrongs do make a right" approach. This viewpoint seems to be shared by Randy Burton of the Star Phoenix, for he makes a similar argument in his "Straight Talk" column also of January 20, 2001.

MacPherson claims Latimer killed his daughter because he loved her and perceived her to be suffering; Burton laments the courts' rejection of Latimer's attempted defence of "necessity". Exhibiting a closer grasp on reality, Christopher Levan (in his Edmonton Journal column), reminds us that that shortly before Latimer followed through on his decision that Tracy must die, Latimer had received word both of a surgical procedure that may have helped her, as well as an offer of a permanent placement in a group home.

MacPherson compares Latimer to Jamie Gladue, suggesting that because Gladue received lenience based on her "hard life" as an abused wife, Latimer too, should receive lenience based on his "hard life" of caring for a suffering, disabled daughter. Again, MacPherson is seemingly outraged at the lenience of Gladue's sentence, yet takes the position that two wrongs will make a right. Advocating giving Latimer a lesser sentence while being outraged at the injustice of other leniencies is difficult to take seriously for its faulty logic. It does however, make for successful tugging of the heartstrings of readers to shore up support for Latimer.

Seeing that both columnists are obviously in favor of making comparisons between Latimer and others (despite how illogical some of those comparisons are), I'd like to make some comparisons of my own; comparisons that are more directly related to Latimer's actions, comparisons based on other people with "hard lives" who have made choices very different than Latimer's.

Let us compare Latimer with Ken and Rita Wolfe [1]. Ken and Rita lived with, cared for and loved daughters Megan and Shivawn. Both girls were disabled by Niemann-Pick-Type C (NPC), a rare autosomal recessive disease. An illness which can strike at any age, NPC causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system. Megan and Shivawn would each eventually lose their lives to this disease that challenged the Wolfe family in every way. Ken and Rita didn't end the lives of their daughters, yet they bore the same "hard lives" as Latimer - not just once, but twice. Did Ken and Rita suffer watching their daughters go through so many difficulties? Most assuredly so, and yet they accepted that pain. Megan and Shivawn lived out their lives, making of their lives what they could because Ken and Rita knew that within the true meaning of love, the lives of their daughters were not theirs for the taking.

What about Mark Pickup? Having had the priviledge to hear him speak, I recall how Mr. Pickup[2] spoke in hopes of helping others to understand what it is like to be the one in need. Stricken with debilitating MS and having come through personal moments of utter and total dependence on others (periods of despair the likes most of us will never face), he determinedly states that love and compassion isn't about helping another end their life when they're suffering, but is about helping them through those times. He admits to having times he wished for death, only to later be grateful that those who truly loved him knew his need was not for a Canadian Kevorkian, but for someone to help him get through the pain and the despair. As someone who understood he might be dead instead of alive were his loved ones unable to understand that his life is as valuable as theirs, he minces no words when it comes to whether or not he believes the suffering need kindness, or killing. Pickup is arguably as productive (if not mor e so) as before his diagnosis. If we as a society wanted to truly understand the viewpoint of those who are suffering, perhaps we would pay attention to the Mark Pickups of the world instead of attempt to hide them or silence them to the Les MacPhersons and Randy Burtons of the world.

Finally, there are my mother-in-law and aunt, who cared for both physically and spiritually, their mother with terminal cancer. They and the countless others in the same position as they were, show that loving someone is about giving them your all, not taking their all - their life. Love changes colostomy bags, love bathes. Love sleeps on the chair by their bed to be sure they have their needs met. Love changes diapers, love wipes drool and cleans vomit. Love feeds. Love accepts the pain of watching one you love suffer. Love does not insist on its own way. Love bears all things, love endures all things [3], love does not end it all.

Let us for once and for all, understand the fallacy of reasoning away the killing of anyone because "we loved them too much".

MacPherson states "to lock him [Latimer] up for this for the next 10 years is a stain on Canadian justice and a national disgrace."

I agree, there is a stain on Canadian justice, but perhaps if MacPherson reflected on the cases he reviews in his plea for lenience for Latimer, he'd realize the stain is the injustice of the lenience applied overall when it comes to the "justice" meted out to those who take human life. The stain is not the sentence handed down to Latimer.

Tracy's death was seemingly planned. "Justice" would normally demand Latimer receive a sentence based on the guidelines for first degree murder, which he did not. How can we then, accept the arguments of those who would suggest Latimer has not been treated fairly in receiving a sentence within the guidelines for second degree murder? Pleas for Latimer to receive consideration of the "royal prerogative of mercy" can only be based in emotional rhetoric fueled by those who claim to value Tracy's life as much as yours or mine, yet refuse to understand that we cannot in fact value her life the same unless we are willing to insist the taking of her life is punishable under the same standards of law.

Does this mean our hearts cannot go out to Mr. Latimer and his family? It does not. We must realize though, that taking that sympathy and using it to justify lenience, is sending the message to anyone caring for someone they might perceive to be better off dead, that they too, will receive lenience. Where will it end? Will it end at physical suffering? The emotional pain and suffering of severe depression and other such illnesses feels as painful as the pain Tracy must have felt through her illness. Imagine a world where those who are suffering pain of all nature, would have to fear for their lives should a loved one deem that their suffering is too much for them to bear. Remember also, the words of Mark Pickup, who was there and lives to tell us how he may have thought he wanted to die, but upon receiving help, testifies to the fact that even when someone thinks they want to die, often, they don't. They want us to search deep within our healthy hearts and bodies, and find that place where we can pull out ju st a bit more to help them get to that place where they can go on. Mr. Pickup has proven that in matters such as these, it is we who don't understand, who are the disabled. I personally, am in awe of this man.

Burton titled his opinion piece "Sanity takes a holiday in Latimer case" and makes a similar argument as MacPherson. Burton concludes that Latimer should benefit from the "royal prerogative of mercy." He compares Latimer to women who've had their sentences reduced when it was found their crimes of murder were in self-defense, and Burton states "Justice demands it."

Latimer, did not kill Tracy in self-defense.

In advocating lenience for Latimer, Burton and MacPherson sadly seem to believe that two wrongs do indeed make a right.

Burton's title does seem to address the situation here in Saskatchewan, where people are so painfully ready to leap to Latimer's defense and plead lenience for him. I doubt though, that Burton realized his observance [that sanity has taken a holiday] would reflect the views he himself was espousing.

This article copyright 11/00 by Sass Seagal, all rights reserved. Not to used in whole or in part, without written permission from the author.

[1] Permission to refer to the lives and death of Megan and Shivawn Wolfe, was granted this writer from Rita Wolfe. [2] Mark Pickup is a well-known motivational speaker. [3] 1 Corinthians 13:5,7 (NRSV, Holy Bible).