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Robert William LATIMER





Classification: Homicide
Characteristics: Parricide - Mercy killing
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: October 24, 1993
Date of birth: March 13, 1953
Victim profile: His severely disabled daughter Tracy, 12
Method of murder: By placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck's exhaust pipe to the cab
Location: Saskatchewan, Canada
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for ten years November 1994. Released December 6, 2010

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Supreme Court ruling


R. v. Latimer, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 217


R. v. Latimer, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 3, 2001 SCC 1


Robert Latimer (born March 13, 1953) is a Canadian farmer sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for ten years for the murder of his daughter Tracy (born November 23, 1980), which occurred on October 24, 1993.

This act sparked a significant national controversy on the ethics of mercy killings, and two Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Latimer (1997), on section 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and later R. v. Latimer (2001), on cruel and unusual punishments under section 12 of the Charter.

Latimer says that he killed his daughter because she had severe mental and physical disabilities and ongoing health problems as a result of cerebral palsy and he believed that the next surgery she was to have, to remove a permanently disconnected hip, would only add to her suffering. He is seeking a reduction of his sentence (having served three years as of 2004).

Supporters of Latimer said that this was a mercy killing which should not be punished as harshly as other murders. (The minimum penalty for second degree murder in Canada is life imprisonment, with parole eligibility beginning after 10 years). The jury that convicted him felt that he should spend one year in jail and another under house arrest at his farm near Wilkie, Saskatchewan.

However, disability rights advocates said that killing a severely disabled child like Tracy should carry the same penalty as killing a non-disabled child. To do otherwise would devalue the lives of disabled people and also increase the risk of more such killings by their caregivers.

Robert Latimer is currently serving his sentence in a minimum-security facility on Vancouver Island.


Robert William "Bob" Latimer (born March 13, 1953), a Canadian canola and wheat farmer, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his daughter Tracy (November 23, 1980 October 24, 1993). This case sparked a national controversy on the definition and ethics of euthanasia as well as the rights of people with disabilities, and two Supreme Court decisions, R. v. Latimer (1997), on section 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and later R. v. Latimer (2001), on cruel and unusual punishments under section 12 of the Charter. Latimer was released on day parole in March 2008 and was granted full parole, effective December 6, 2010.

Farm and family

Before his imprisonment, Bob Latimer lived near Wilkie, Saskatchewan, on a 1,280 acres (520 ha) wheat and canola farm with his wife, Laura, and their four children.

Tracy Latimer

Tracy Latimer was born November 23, 1980. An interruption in Tracy's supply of oxygen during the birth caused cerebral palsy, leading to severe mental and physical disabilities including seizures that were controlled with seizure medication. She had little or no voluntary control of her muscles, wore diapers, and could not walk or talk. Her doctors described the care given by her family as excellent.

The Supreme Court judgment of 1997 noted, "It is undisputed that Tracy was in constant pain." In her medical testimony Dr. Dzus, Tracy's orthopaedic surgeon, noted "the biggest thing I remember from that visit is how painful Tracy was. Her mother was holding her right leg in a fixed, flexed position with her knee in the air and any time you tried to move that leg Tracy expressed pain and cried out". She also noted that despite having a hip that had been dislocated for many months Tracy could not take painkillers because she was on anti-seizure medication which, in combination with painkillers, could lead to renewed seizures, stomach bleeding, constipation, aspiration and aspiration pneumonia.

Robert Latimer reported that the family was not aware of any medication other than Tylenol that could be safely administered to Tracy. Considering it too intrusive, the Latimers did not wish a feeding tube to be inserted, though according to the 2001 Supreme Court judgment it might have allowed more effective pain medication to be administered, as well as improve her nutrition and health.

During her life, Tracy underwent several surgeries, including surgery to lengthen tendons and release muscles, and surgery to correct scoliosis in which rods were inserted into her back.

Despite her medical condition, Tracy attended school regularly in Wilkie. People who worked with Tracy in group homes and schools described her smile, love of music and reaction to horses at the circus. According to the Crown prosecutors' brief presented at the second trial, "She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them. There is no dispute that through her life, Tracy at times suffered considerable pain. As well, the quality of her life was limited by her severe disability. But the pain she suffered was not unremitting, and her life had value and quality."

In October 1993, Dr. Dzus recommended further surgery on November 19, 1993 in the hope that it would lessen the constant pain in Tracy's dislocated hip. Depending on the state of her hip joint, the procedure might have been a hip reconstruction or it might have involved removing the upper part of her thigh bone, leaving the leg connected to her body only by muscles and nerves.

The anticipated recovery period for this surgery was one year. The Latimers were told that this procedure would cause pain, and the doctors involved suggested that further surgery would be required in the future to relieve the pain emanating from various joints in Tracy's body."

Dr. Dzus reported that "the post operative pain can be incredible", and described the only useful short-term solution being the use of an epidural to anesthetize the lower part of the body and help alleviate pain while Tracy was still in hospital.

Tracy's death

On October 24, 1993, Laura Latimer found Tracy dead. She had died under the care of her father while the rest of the family was at church. At first Robert Latimer maintained that Tracy had died in her sleep; however, when confronted by police with autopsy evidence that high levels of carbon monoxide were found in Tracy's blood, Latimer confessed that he had killed her by placing her in his truck and connecting a hose from the truck's exhaust pipe to the cab. He said he had also considered other methods of killing Tracy, including Valium overdose and "shooting her in the head".

Robert 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 asked.

Murder trials and appeals

On November 16, 1994, a jury convicted Latimer of second degree murder. However, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered a retrial, because of jury interference as the prosecutor had questioned potential jurors about religion, abortion, and mercy killing during jury selection. (See R. v. Latimer (1997) for more information on this decision.) On November 5, 1997, the jury at the second trial again found Latimer guilty of second degree murder.

Although the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is life with no chance of parole until after 10 years, the jury recommended that Latimer be eligible for parole after one year. Because he believed Latimer was motivated by compassion, Judge Ted Noble argued that a "constitutional exemption" could apply, and sentenced him to two years, one in jail and one under house arrest.

The Crown appealed the decision because Latimer had not received the minimum sentence for his crime. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal ruled that Latimer would have to serve a life sentence. Latimer appealed this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, asserting that he had not been allowed to argue that he had no choice but to kill Tracy, and that a life sentence was cruel and unusual punishment. The Supreme Court unanimously upheld Latimer's conviction and life sentence holding that Latimer had other options available to him and that the minimum 10-year sentence was not excessive.


Robert Latimer began serving his sentence on January 18, 2001 and was incarcerated at William Head Institution, a minimum-security facility located 30 kilometers west of Victoria, BC, on Vancouver Island. While in prison, he completed the first year of carpentry and electrician apprenticeships. He continued to run the farm with the help of a manager.


On December 5, 2007 Robert Latimer requested day parole from the National Parole Board in Victoria, BC. He told the parole board that 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 psychological and parole reports that said he was a low risk to reoffend unless he was put into the same situation again.

In January 2008, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association filed the appeal on Latimer's behalf, arguing that in denying parole the board had violated its own rules by requiring admission of wrongdoing and by ignoring the low risk for reoffending.

In February 2008, a review board overturned the earlier parole board decision, and granted Latimer day parole stating that there was low risk that Latimer would re-offend.

Latimer was released from William Head Prison and began his day parole in Ottawa in March. On his release he expressed his plan 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.

Public debate

Support for Latimer

A 1999 poll found that 73% of Canadians believed that Latimer acted out of compassion and should receive a more lenient sentence. The same poll found that 41% believe that mercy killing should not be illegal. Ethicist Arthur Schafer argued that Robert Latimer was "the only person in Canadian history to spend even a single day in prison for a mercy killing" and that compassion and common sense dictated a reduced sentence and the granting of parole. In their book, "The Elements of Moral Philosophy", James Rachels and Stuart Rachels present Robert Latimer's actions sympathetically.

Support for Latimer's conviction and sentence

Numerous disability rights groups obtained intervenor status in the Latimer's appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, arguing that killing a severely disabled child like Tracy is no different than killing a non-disabled child and should carry the same penalty. To do otherwise, they argued, would devalue the lives of disabled people and increase the risk of more such killings by their caregivers.

Religious groups representing the Roman Catholic church and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada also appeared as intervenors in Latimer's Supreme Court appeal.

Latimer's 2007 application for day-parole was rejected primarily because he still denied any wrongdoing. Maclean's columnist Andrew Coyne argued that the National Parole Board was right to expect remorse on Latimer's part, because to do otherwise might inspire others to similar actions.


Robert Latimer denied day parole

By Rob Shaw - The Victoria Times-Colonist

December 5, 2007

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.


Cruel & unusual': The law and Latimer

Martin O'Malley & Owen Wood, CBC News Online

December 17, 2003

Robert Latimer, a farmer working a spread in Saskatchewan northwest of Saskatoon, killed his 12-year-old daughter Tracy on October 24, 1993. There has never been any doubt about this.

Latimer told police he did it. He said he loved his daughter and could not bear to watch her suffer from a severe form of cerebral palsy. So he placed her in the cab of his Chevy pickup, ran a hose from the exhaust to the cab, climbed into the box of the truck, sat on a tire and watched her die.

Tracy was a 40-pound quadriplegic, a 12-year-old who functioned at the level of a three-month-old. She had been repeatedly operated on and at the time of her murder was due for more surgery, this time to remove a thigh bone. She could not walk, talk or feed herself, though she responded to affection and occasionally smiled. Tracy was in constant, excruciating pain yet, for reasons not entirely clear, could not be treated with a pain-killer stronger than Tylenol.

On November 4, 1993, Latimer was charged with first-degree murder. A year later, he was convicted of second-degree murder.

End of story?


Over seven years later, January 18th 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada eventually upheld his conviction and life sentence.

The issues arising from the Latimer case are momentous. Should courts abide by the letter or the spirit of the law? Would a decision favourable to Latimer legalize euthanasia, mercy killing? Would it put the disabled in danger? Would it mean the end of mandatory minimum sentences for convicted persons

The killing of Tracy Latimer has been called an act of "compassionate homicide." Others warn that leniency for Latimer, by means of a constitutional exception, would have shown that the disabled are regarded as second-class citizens.

Following his first conviction, the Latimer case became horrendously complex. The Supreme Court ordered a new trial when it was learned that the RCMP, acting on orders from the Crown, had possibly tainted the case by questioning potential jurors on their views on religion, abortion and mercy killing.

Latimer stood trial again in October, 1997. A month later he was convicted, again, of second-degree murder.

The jury recommended he be eligible for parole after a year, even though the minimum sentence for second-degree murder is 25 years with no chance of parole for 10 years. (Automatic minimum sentences for first- and second-degree murder have been mandatory since 1976, as a trade-off for the abolition of capital punishment.)

New legal ground was broken in December, 1997, when Justice Ted Noble – trying to distinguish between mercy killing and cold-blooded murder – granted Latimer a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence for second-degree murder. He explained that, for Latimer, the minimum sentence would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment."

Noble carefully detailed the reasons for his decision, anticipating the controversy it would provoke – and the likelihood it would be appealed. He said the law "recognizes that the moral culpability or the moral blameworthiness of murder can vary from one convicted offender to another." He called Tracy Latimer's murder a "rare act of homicide that was committed for caring and altruistic reasons. That is why for want of a better term this is called compassionate homicide."

Noble also described Latimer's relationship with Tracy as "that of a loving and protective parent" who wanted to end his daughter's suffering. Noble said Latimer "is not a threat to society, nor does he require any rehabilitation."

The Crown argued that Tracy was a relatively cheerful child, and her rights were violated by being killed by her father. According to the Crown brief presented at Latimer's second trial:

"Tracy enjoyed outings, one of which was to the circus, where she smiled when the horses went by. She also responded to visits by her family, smiling and looking happy to see them.

"There is no dispute that through her life, Tracy at times suffered considerable pain. As well, the quality of her life was limited by her severe disability. But the pain she suffered was not unremitting, and her life had value and quality."

Nearly a year later, in November, 1998, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned Noble's ruling, imposing the mandatory minimum sentence: 25 years, with no parole before 10 years.

Critics of leniency for Latimer worried that a Supreme Court decision soft on Latimer would send a signal to many convicted murderers that they, too, may be victims of "cruel and unusual punishment" and are eligible for constitutional exceptions to reduce their mandatory minimum sentences.

"I think the (Supreme Court) could be opening a Pandora's box," University of Saskatchewan law professor Sanjeev Anand told Kirk Makin, justice reporter for The Globe and Mail. "If the court is very lax … and says you can make constitutional exemptions whenever you want to, it would also encourage Parliament to never create another mandatory minimum sentence."

After the Supreme Court ruling, Latimer's only remaining option is a plea to Ottawa for a rare federal pardon.

Unusual as the Latimer case is, there are related cases, such as battered women who have killed their batterers – often their husbands – and received leniency from the courts. Special legislation is being considered for victims who kill their oppressors, based on self-defence. It’s more difficult when the victim, like Tracy Latimer, is so clearly blameless.

An old legal maxim is – "Hard cases make bad law." Whether this applies to the case of Robert Latimer remains to be seen.



Oct. 24, 1993
Latimer kills his daughter Tracy by piping carbon monoxide into his truck.

Nov. 16, 1994
Jury convicts Latimer of second-degree murder.

July 18, 1995
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal decides 2-1 to uphold Latimer conviction.

Oct. 25, 1995
Revelation that prosecutor interfered with jury by questioning them about religion, abortion and mercy killing.

Nov. 27, 1996
Supreme Court of Canada hears Latimer case.

Feb. 6, 1997
Supreme Court orders new trial due to jury interference, but upholds Latimer's confession.

Oct. 27, 1997
Latimer's second trial begins.

Nov. 5, 1997
Jury finds Latimer guilty of second-degree murder and recommends he be eligible for parole after one year.

Dec. 1, 1997
Judge Ted Noble gives Latimer "constitutional exemption", orders sentence of less than two years, with one to be spent in the community.

Nov. 23, 1998
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal sets aside constitutional exemption and upholds mandatory sentence of at least 10 years.

Feb. 1999
Latimer appeals to the Supreme Court of Canada.

May 6, 1999
Supreme Court announced it will hear an appeal of Latimer's sentence for 1993 killing of his seriously disabled daughter.

June 14, 2000
Supreme Court hears appeal.

Jan. 18, 2001
Supreme Court upholds life sentence, with no parole for 10 years.

Dec. 17, 2003
Speaking more than 10 years after he ran a hose from the exhaust to the cab of his pickup truck and put his daughter Tracy inside to die, Latimer says he still believes he did the right thing.

Dec. 5, 2007
Latimer's bid for day parole is denied after a National Parole Board hearing at a prison in Victoria. The three board members, who took almost an hour to make a decision, said they were struck by Latimer's lack of insight into the crime he committed, the CBC's Heather Robinson reported.

Feb. 27, 2008
Latimer's appeal of the National Parole Board decision is successful. He is to serve day parole in Ottawa.

March 13, 2008
Latimer is released from the Victoria jail. He is granted a four-day unescorted leave to visit his ailing mother in Saskatchewan before reporting for day parole in Ottawa on March 17.


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