VANCOUVER – For more than 20 years – on bail, in prison, on parole – Robert Latimer has followed every rule and condition imposed upon him, without transgression, his lawyer told a Federal Court judge on Wednesday.
Jason Gratl asked the court to overturn a parole board decision that bars Latimer from travelling outside Canada without express permission, saying it is an unreasonable limitation on the Saskatchewan farmer who was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of his severely disabled daughter.
“Mr. Latimer really has done about as much as it is possible to do to demonstrate that he complies with all his conditions,” Gratl said. “The risk is essentially non-existent.”
Latimer, 60, killed 12-year-old Tracy in 1993 by piping exhaust into the cab of his truck on the family farm in Wilkie, Sask. She suffered from severe cerebral palsy and Latimer has always maintained he wanted to end her chronic, excruciating pain.
A 1994 conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada, but he was convicted again in 1997. Latimer was sentenced to the mandatory life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 years, despite a jury recommendation for less.
He was released on full parole, with conditions, in 2010. In July 2013, a parole board panel denied Latimer’s request to travel freely outside Canada without having to apply first for a limited-time passport.
Latimer, who did not attend the brief hearing in Vancouver, applied to the Federal Court for a judicial review of that decision.
The circumstances in Latimer’s case were unique, Gratl told Judge Michael Manson.
“His daughter was born to him with cerebral palsy,” he said. “He cared for her deeply, on a practical level and emotionally, for 13 years.
“His daughter was in unbelievable agony as her skeleton degenerated over a period of years.”
Latimer is not an advocate – no Jack Kevorkian – Gratl told the judge, referring to the now-deceased American euthanasia activist.
Should the parole board lift the travel ban, Latimer will still check in monthly with his parole officer, Gratl said, and inform the parole officer of any travel plans. He would also check in over the telephone or electronically while he’s away.
Chris Bernier, the lawyer for the federal Crown, said Latimer can apply on a case-by-case basis for permission to travel. That restriction is absolutely reasonable, he said.
“This is a life sentence for murder that he’s still serving,” Bernier said.
The parole board recognized that Latimer poses no risk to reoffend but they took into account the severity and nature of his offence, he told the judge.
“He’s still able to travel,” Bernier said. “He would need to provide information on the place, purpose and duration of his travel. I don’t think that’s unduly onerous for him to provide that information.”
Last year, the board gave Latimer permission to attend a debate on assisted suicide and mercy killings in Britain, but United Kingdom Border Services denied him a visa.
He tried to apply to travel to South America to do some work with Habitat for Humanity, but that also fell through.
“The difficulty is that international travel restriction imposes a level of red tape and certain bureaucratic hurdles that make travel, practically, very difficult,” Gratl said outside court.
The judge reserved his decision. If successful, the parole decision will be sent back to the board to reconsider.
© The Canadian Press, 2014