|Montréal, 3 février 2001 / No 76||
by David MacRae
After six years of searching for compassion from Canadian legal system, Robert Latimer must finally, as the statists like to put it,
Almost forgotten in the national debate over this case is the fact Latimer's
case has finally established the principle in Canadian law that if the
Crown doesn't like a jury's verdict, it simply has to appeal to one of
its own in order to get it changed. Formerly, the most an appeal court
could do was to order a new trial. Yet another limit on state power has
Equally forgotten is the fact that Mr. Latimer had an accomplice. He did not make the decision to terminate the existence of his misbegotten daughter on his own. He discussed it beforehand with his wife Laura and they both agreed that it was time for Tracy to die.
A simple error
Why would apparently-loving parents decide to terminate the life of their only daughter?
Well, advocates for the disabled may applaud the court decision, claiming that it demonstrates respect for their rights, but the fact remains that Tracy Latimer was not handicapped. As I said, she was a vegetable.
A vegetable who knew nothing of life except excruciating pain. She couldn't walk, talk or feed herself. She functioned at the level of a three-month-old. She had already endured several major operations and would certainly have needed many more.
After twelve years, her parents decided to end the life of this travesty. No one will ever know whether they did this to end her pain or because they needed to move on in their own lives. Probably they cannot even sort out their motives themselves.
Whatever you think about the ethics of their decision, Robert and Laura Latimer made a simple error which would have prevented the Canadian legal system from hounding them for six years, destroying their family, slandering their reputation and committing him to prison.
They chose the wrong person to perform the deed.
Had Laura killed their daughter, it is almost certain that no one would have gone to prison. The system would have been sympathetic and sentenced her to
There is a vast difference in the way that women and men are treated for the crime of killing their children.
Surprised? You shouldn't be. Consider.
In the time between Latimer's first and second trials, Danielle Blais of Montreal drowned her six-year-old son Charles-Antoine in a bathtub. Like Tracy Latimer, Charles-Antoine had a handicap, in his case autism. Unlike Tracy, he had a life. He could get out of his bed. He attended school. He had the hope of one day becoming independent, perhaps even productive.
Like Robert Latimer, Danielle Blais was charged with murder for her act. Like Latimer, Blais was initially sentenced to two years in prison. Thereafter, the stories differ.
The Latimer verdict provoked a national outcry. The Crown appealed with the result, as we have already noted, that he will spend at least ten years in prison.
And Blais? Her sentence was suspended. Few people, even in Montreal, have ever heard of her. There was no appeal. Did disabled activists react with outrage at this travesty of justice? Well, not exactly. The Quebec Society for Autistic Children hired her as a spokesperson – to explain how difficult it is to live with autism.
While the Latimer case waited to be heard before the Supreme Court of Canada, in British Columbia Cheryl Baker let her ten-year-old daughter Katie Lynn die from starvation. At the end Katie Lynn weighed 20 pounds. Yes, you read that right. She was ten years old and weighed 20 pounds.
In mommy's defence, Katie Lynn had Rett's Syndrome, a severe form of autism and one of the symptoms of this disorder is a lack of the desire to eat. Still, like Charles-Antoine Blais, Katie-Lynn Baker was well enough to attend school. Her mother has never been charged for criminal negligence, let alone murder. Nor have any of the numerous social workers and school officials who watched her die. In all likelihood, no one ever will be charged.
At the same time as the Supreme Court rendered its verdict on the Latimer case, an inquest in Toronto tried to make sense of the death of Jordan Heikamp. Like Katie Lynn Baker, Jordan died of starvation under the watch of social workers and women's shelter bureaucrats. As in her case, society's protectors did nothing.
Unlike Katie Lynn, Jordan Heikamp was not handicapped. He suffered simply from the misfortune of being born to the wrong woman. She never provided him with any sustenance and he therefore died. Renee Heikamp was charged with criminal negligence, as was a social worker. Still… the result was the same. When the case went to court, the judge threw out the case, absolving both women of all blame. And yes, there was no appeal.
All of this points to one conclusion: women who kill their children are given sympathy and sentenced to
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that women are many times more likely to murder their offspring than men.
A hospital in Great Britain installed hidden cameras to survey children who they feared to be at risk of abuse by their parents. They found dozens of cases and made headlines about abuse by
What all the commentators carefully hid was who these
How did the hospital choose the people to watch? Every case involved previous children who had died in mysterious circumstances. To be more precise, 37 killer moms murdered 40 children. Total jail sentences imposed: 0, even though some of the women confessed when confronted afterwards.
About 1300 child murders took place in the US last year. About 500 perpetrators were non-parents, roughly divided between men and women. Of the rest, only 30 (!) were fathers. In other words, mothers were more than 25 times more likely to kill their progeny than fathers. Yet somehow, men are viewed as being more dangerous to their children than women.
In Canada, many crime statistics are presented in such a way as to hide female malevolence. As an example, we do not break down statistics on child murder by sex of the offender. Consequently, this information is not available here. However, there is no reason to assume that things are any different north of the border.
This favoured treatment of women is not limited to child murder. Rose Cece and Mary Taylor, a lesbian couple in Toronto, decided on a lark to kill a police officer. Had a man done so, he would have been convicted with first-degree murder almost without regard to the facts. If not, police associations across the country would have been outraged. In fact, Cece and Taylor were convicted of manslaughter and no one commented.
At least they went to jail. Women are often let off with suspended sentences. As the Ottawa Citizen said in one case,
Getting away with murder
This reluctance to convict women murderers goes back a long way. In fact, it is the reason for the invention of the crime of infanticide at the turn of the last century. Juries refused to convict women of murdering their own children.
Or their parents, it would appear.
Lizzie Borden took an axe
Gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.
What the ditty doesn't mention is that the 1892 Boston jury let Lizzie off. One of the main reasons for this is that her judge, like the one in the Getkate case, practically directed the jury to acquit. Plus ça change...
One difference between women who are committed to jail and those who are not appears to be familial relationships. Only two women have ever been convicted of first-degree murder in this country. Yvonne Johnson killed a man she barely knew. Sarabjit Kaur Minhas strangled her nephew. In other words, women are given greater latitude when they kill their husbands, parents or children. Of course, they always get some slack – Cece and Taylor are proof enough of that.
The discrimination of the courts in favour of women is not limited to murder. It is true of all crimes. Officially, women commit 15% of serious crimes in Canada, almost certainly an understatement of the facts. Whatever the real number, they form approximately 1% of the people in our prisons. Texas statistics indicate that women are actually more likely to commit fraud than men. Despite this, men are ten times more likely to serve time for the offence.
There seems to be a fundamental refusal to admit that women are capable of committing crimes. When they do, we tend to downplay the act and to view her as the victim, not as the victimizer. A book has been written about the Johnson case. Its title is
While feminism may be partially responsible for this, the answer appears to be more profound. Lizzy Borden's parents died long before the appearance of this form of collective insanity. The reality is that people, in all societies, assume that the female of the species must be protected, even from the consequences of her own actions.
Whatever. The bottom line is that male misbehaviour, however you to define this word, is treated far more severely than equivalent female crimes.
Robert Latimer would be free today had he insisted that his wife take responsibility for her decisions instead of doing it for her. So would she. After all, she was never even investigated for her part in the killing, let alone charged, convicted or sentenced.
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