Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer who killed his severely disabled daughter in 1993 and sparked a national debate on euthanasia, was denied day parole from the minimum security William Head Institution outside Victoria Wednesday.
A three-member National Parole Board panel told Mr. Latimer they were “struck” that he had failed to develop any insight into his crime during his seven years in prison.
“We were left with the feeling you have not developed the kind of sufficient insight and understanding of your actions,” said Kelly-Ann Speck, one of the members of the panel.
The board recommended Mr. Latimer take counselling and participate in prison programmes to better understand his actions and learn not externalize blame to the legal system and government.
The decision means Mr. Latimer, 54, will not be able to spend days in the community and nights in a halfway house.
According to Evelyn Blair of the National Parole Board, Mr. Latimer likely will not have another opportunity at parole for two years.
Robert Latimer killed his daughter Tracy Latimer in 1993 by placing the 12-year-old in a truck on the family farm in Wilkie, Sask., and pumping exhaust into the vehicle until she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.
He contended it was an act of mercy because Tracy Latimer was severely disabled and suffered from cerebral palsy caused by brain damage at birth. She was a bed-bound quadriplegic who could not speak or feed herself and suffered from a twisted spine, malnutrition, seizures and chronic vomiting.
Robert Latimer had requested he be paroled in Ottawa, where he said he wanted to continue to press the federal government and the courts to more fully explain a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that upheld his conviction.
Robert Latimer has long rejected the court’s suggestion he could have used different pain medication instead of killing his daughter. No such medication existed, he contends, because pain relief drugs reacted with his daughter’s anti-seizure medication.
When asked why he did not ask to be paroled near his wife Laura and their three children in Saskatchewan, Mr. Latimer said he wanted to be in Ottawa for advocacy work and that he hoped to spare his family the constant media attention of his release.
Wednesday was Mr. Latimer’s first appearance before a parole board panel. His institutional parole officer said he presented a low risk to the community, but would need counselling to take responsibility for his actions.
The parole officer recommended he be granted day parole. That the parole board eventually denied this request is unusual — about 80% of the time the board follows the parole officer’s recommendations, said a board spokesperson.
Mr. Latimer was at times uncooperative at the hearing, either refusing to answer questions or simply talking about something else until a board member asked the question again. Mr. Latimer declined an assistant for the proceedings and chose to represent himself. Neither his wife nor his sons attended.
Mr. Latimer also appeared confused and tired. Sitting with his back to the public gallery in a multipurpose room at the prison, he was unable to answer simple questions or even cite the exact date he killed his daughter and how he felt while committing the murder.
His thoughts and feelings were private, he said, adding that his case had been “exploited by the entire country.”
When a board member asked Mr. Latimer if he was a risk to kill again in a similar situation, he only said it was unlikely that such a situation would occur again.
He remained unapologetic and angry at the legal system.
“The laws are not as important as Tracy was,” he said.
“I still feel don’t feel guilty because I still feel it was the best thing to do,” Mr. Latimer told the board earlier.
The three-member parole panel — Ms. Speck, Maryam Majedi and Ben Andersen — cited Mr. Latimer’s belief that his actions were above the law as one reason for denying him parole.
“If a person has no remorse, if they don’t feel they’ve done anything wrong, often what goes hand in hand with that is they don’t feel like they need to change anything,” said Patrick Storey, National Parole Board spokesman.
“Parole is all about change. The parole board wants to see evidence of some significant lasting change from the man who committed the offence to the man who appears before them today. In this case, the lack of remorse is perhaps linked to what the parole board felt was a lack of change.”
Mr. Latimer’s full parole date is Dec. 8, 2010. He has been in prison since December, 2001, but has also accumulated time served during a seven-year journey through the legal system that involved multiple trials, sentences and appeals.
Mr. Latimer’s case sparked a vigorous national debate on what extent, if any, euthanasia could be justified. Supporters across the country signed petitions urging the government to grant Robert Latimer clemency and raised more than $250,000 for his family. Others, including many disabled rights groups, condemned his actions.
“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Rory Summers, president of the B.C. Association for Community Living, which supports people with development disabilities.
Mr. Summers and BCACL executive director Laney Bryenton were two of the only people in the public gallery for the hearing other than corrections staff and 18 journalists.
“Coming in today we assumed, I guess, he was going to get parole,” said Laney Bryenton. “But what we saw was such a profound lack of remorse for his actions, that it was deeply disturbing to both of us.”
The Saskatchewan farmer’s journey through the Canadian legal system was long and complicated.
Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder on Nov. 16, 1994, and sentenced to life with no eligibility for parole for 10 years. He lost his first appeal on July 18, 1995. He was given a second trial amid allegations of jury tampering, where he was again convicted of second-degree murder. But this time a Saskatchewan judge exempted him from the minimum sentence and instead handed him a lesser two-year sentence — one year of house arrest and one year in jail.
Robert Latimer appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 2001 not only upheld his conviction but also changed his sentence to the minimum 10 years without parole required under Canadian law.
The Supreme Court also rejected Robert Latimer’s bid to have the case re-opened in 2002, and he has since refused to formally apply to the government for clemency out of protest at his treatment.
Mr. Latimer started his prison term in 2001 at the federal Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert, where his wife said he ran the 512-hectare family farm using a calculator and a telephone behind bars. He was later sent to the medium-security Bowden Institution in Innisfail, Alta., before being transferred to the minimum-security William Head Institution Oct. 9, 2003.
Once settled in William Head, Mr. Latimer studied to become an electrician and stayed mostly out of trouble, said his parole officer. William Head is well known for its community-based rehabilitation and work programs. Mr. Latimer has been staying in a five-bedroom bungalow where inmates are allowed to cook for themselves and live in relative independence.
…this post forwarded by Windsor Humanist, Alexander Neil, after a December 5, 2007 article by Rob Shaw in The Victoria Times-Colonist