After seven years in prison Robert Latimer is eligible for day parole, and he faces a politically-appointed Parole Board that will determine if he will be allowed to leave prison and stay, for three years, in a half-way house.
A shabby room with a table appears. Latimer is on one side with his parole officer, and three Parole Board members sit across from him. He is wearing a T-shirt and a hoodie is slung across the back of his seat. A number of reporters and witnesses are also in the room.
After seven years in prison Robert Latimer is eligible for day parole, and he faces a politically-appointed Parole Board that will determine if he will be allowed to leave prison and stay, for three years, in a half-way house. After that he would be eligible for full parole and be able to go home. But first he needed to be approved for the first step of day parole. Many thought this would be a formality. I did; so did he. The questioning started with questions about Latimer’s early life as a young man.
Was drug use and alcohol use a part of your life on a regular basis then?
A bit, yeah.
. . . what happened after with your drug and alcohol use . . .
I didn’t get into too much trouble after that . . . I think.
She went on questioning him about his youthful escapades. Finally, she went on to ask about Tracy – only selected questions and responses are reported here, to give a flavour of the interactions.
So we have then the offense that put you in jail – the murder of your daughter … what role did you play in her care? . . . she was very vulnerable . . .
ROBERT: (with some emotion):
I was her father!
What was your attitude to the reality of having a disabled child? . . . I am trying to understand how . . . you and your family responded to her ever growing needs . . . was it twelve years of misery?
Yeah, I suppose you could say . . .
First parole board member (sharply):
I’m actually interested in your view – not my view, your view. You are not answering my questions . . . I am trying to determine what your feelings were, your feelings about your daughter . . . You say you were upset about the doctor’s decision to give Tracy another operation, but that seems only a slight difference in her condition.
You term it a slight difference? We didn’t see it that way. We saw the cutting off of Tracy’s femurs as further mutilation of a child who already suffered an incredible amount.
The questioning went on in this vein at some length, with each of the Board members aggressively asking about what Latimer had done and why.
So it’s ‘I am going to plan to kill her . . . and I will do it when nobody’s around.’
It was the best option for her . . . we could not ask her – she had no ability to talk . . . she certainly showed pain . . . we didn’t have options . . .”
But you don’t know if she wanted to die or not; you never know.
I can expect that she didn’t want any more pain.
But you don’t know.
Lights dim momentarily.
You are here trying to explain your behaviour – you need to share with me what was going through your mind at this point.
No one has really asked me too much about that . . . it was a very personal thing . . . It wasn’t like a big guilt trip. I still don’t feel guilty. I still feel it was the best thing to do . . . What I was thinking was that this was the best thing for her. It wasn’t, as you characterized it, cold.
It was . . . it was premeditated . . . you were not overwhelmed with grief at the moment . . . you made the plan in advance . . . it actually required planning . . . I’m unclear as to your state of mind . . .
Like was I emotional? Yes.
Your family is off in church at this point . . . you picked her up and took her back into the house . . . why did you let your wife discover her? . . .you had not told her you were doing this, and instead of saying she died in her sleep you let her go upstairs and discover it . . . what do you think about that? Was that the way to handle it?. . . you tried to cover it up. The only reason the world knows about this was somebody did an autopsy and discovered she was poisoned.Until that moment there was a charade going on . . . there was no ‘I am doing this for the greater good and I am taking a stand on the issue of assisted suicide’, or anything, right? There was somebody covering up responsibility for taking a life . . .
If they hadn’t done an autopsy would you have been sittin’ around on your farm all this time?
Lights dim momentarily.
You said you would do it all over again . . . you have expressed some views of the law I find to be interesting . . . there are all sorts of people who hold moral views that say we’d all be better off if we could go and kill a lot of people . . . we don’t see it that way . . . why are you different?
That I want to kill a lot of people?
Why do you have the moral authority to take someone else’s life?
I can only go by what I’d want in my own circumstances . . . the laws become insignificant when there’s something more important . . . the laws were less important than Tracy was.
First parole board member (scolding):
It is not about one person sitting around and saying what they’ve decided.
The Board member then asked Latimer why he did not tell his wife about what he was going to do..
. . . she mentioned Kevorkian. We talked about it . . . it wasn’t in any way a snap decision. It wasn’t as if we both didn’t understand Tracy’s problem . . . I wish there was more understanding of her medical problem. Maybe you people have a pretty solid medical background – are you doctors?
That’s not actually relevant, sir.
Yeah but it’s a big part of it . . . the medical aspects of it . . .
Do you have a medical degree as well?”
Lights dim momentarily.
. . . one of the things in the file . . . you have a great deal of difficulty expressing your emotions. Is this an accurate portrayal?
Yeah, I feel it is a very private situation . . .
You chose to make it public.
No, I didn’t.
You did it by killing someone. When you took a life . . .
Lights dim momentarily.
Sir, you told the psychologist that in the same circumstances you would have done the same thing.
It was the right thing to do.
And if something like this happens you will do the same thing.
Well, I mean, something like this is extremely rare.
And, sir, may I suggest to you that something happening like this is not quite rare. My concern is that you tell the psychologists that you would do the same thing – what are you going to do to your wife when she is right beside you in pain? Are you going to pull the plug because she is in pain and you think that it is the right thing to do?
Third parole board member:
So in your mother’s case, if the pain-killers no longer worked, and you and her are in the same room, is she put at risk?
I don’t think so.
Third parole board member:
The parole hearing room and the three board members fade out. A man and woman are lit as they come to centre stage.
Immediately after the parole hearing, two members of the BC Association for Community Living spoke to the press in the William Head Prison parking lot. Like me, the members of the Association had attended the hearing and we were waiting for the Board’s ruling.
He even called her birth a tragedy! We heard absolutely no remorse.
We were disturbed by the complete lack of remorse for the murder of his daughter. Part of parole is admitting what you did was wrong, and he did not. As a parent, when you have a child, you cherish that child.
We represent people at risk and people without a voice. Tracy has no voice now. Her voice has been silenced. We are representing Tracy.
He thinks what he did was right! We don’t think he was right. He murdered his daughter!
The man showed no emotion. He couldn’t even remember the date she died. My own son was disabled and like Tracy he had steel rods inserted in his body to keep it more rigid. He later thanked me for arranging the operation.
MAN AND WOMAN TOGETHER:
He murdered his own daughter!
Lights fade out on man and woman as they leave the stage.
The first Board member reappears by herself, reading the Board’s verdict to Latimer, who sits by himself, showing no response. Here is part of it:
First Board Member:
At your hearing today you presented in a manner which demonstrated that you have developed little insight into the factors which contributed to the decision to murder your daughter. You could not or would not describe the feelings or thoughts underlying your actions at the time of the offence nor would you discuss the circumstances or dynamics of your family life. You appear satisfied with the position that you and only you were able to determine her life or death, describing such actions as beyond the law, a private matter exploited by the legal system.
You stated that you would do it all over again and when pressed for how you would respond where a life and death decision arises with a family member, you suggested there was low likelihood that this would occur . . . when pressed about the reality that such situations are a normal occurrence, not an unlikely event, you struggled to respond . . .
The Board . . . was very concerned about your overall presentation and lack of insight and understanding . . . your overall inability or unwillingness to answer questions, your repeated reference to legally required mutilation, your continuing belief that you do not need to follow the law and your preoccupation with legal issues raises questions about your willingness to comply with the expectations of parole supervision or respect for the law.
It is strongly recommended that psychological counseling or appropriate programs be considered by the Correctional Service of Canada to assist you in this regard . . .The Board, after considering your file information and the presentation today concludes that your risk is undue at this time and Day Parole is denied.
Light on Parole Board member fades out. Latimer appears on stage, sitting in a chair in a spotlight. There is an empty chair beside him; the Narrator comes and joins Latimer. Latimer appears calm and speaks quietly.
Well, that must have been very, very disappointing for you.
You were not disappointed?
I didn’t expect much.
There is a lot of support for you out there – a lot of positive commentary in the press.
There is a lot of opposition to me as well.
Did you consider getting legal advice on how to approach the Board?
I think I have been let down by my lawyers. I don’t necessarily agree with the way they handled this case.
But could you not at least have had some coaching on how to approach the Board? On how to present yourself to them?
No. I did what was best for Tracy. If they want to keep me in jail for that, that’s fine.
So what are you going to do now?
Light fades out on Latimer, stays on the Narrator.
So this is where things stood. Denied day parole, Latimer was facing an indeterminate sentence. Latimer’s nightmare now could go on for many more years.
An appeal of the Board’s decision was a possibility, but there were two problems — such appeals are rarely successful, and a disheartened Latimer did not seem to want to undertake any further action.
Some days later Jason Gratl, a Vancouver lawyer, heard about the situation and went on his own to see Latimer at the prison. Explaining his view of the Parole Board’s decision, he offered to challenge it through appeal – all at his own expense. It was an offer Latimer could hardly refuse.
Gratl’s appeal was stunning in its rebuke of the Parole
Board’s initial decision and compelling in its case for Latimer. The appeal board revered the decision.
Latimer was awarded release into day parole, staying for three years in a halfway house in downtown Victoria. Then, on November 29, 2010, at the age of 58, he was awarded full parole, and eventually returned to his farm and family in Saskatchewan. He had been involved in legal proceedings for seven years, been in prison for seven more years and then three more years on day parole; in all, the matter consumed about 18 years of Latimer’s life. He remains on parole for the rest of his life.
Through all of this, Robert and Laura Latimer found solace in one thing: Tracy, their beloved daughter, was beyond pain – at peace at last.
Protesters reappear on stage
Light goes out.
THIS IS THE FINAL INSTALMENT OF A 5-PART SERIES ON THE ARREDT, TRIALS AND IMPRISONMENT OF ROBERT LATIMER