The Latimer Case: The Reflections of People with Disabilities - Our Lives Are Worth Living

Comments from a Vigil for Tracy Latimer

by Catherine Frazee

It's a simple question—why have all these people left their homes and their jobs to be here? Why have we made the considerable effort that it always takes for most of us to get anywhere in this big inaccessible country? Why are we huddled together out here in the February cold, sacrificing the comfort of our regular routines and risking our health?

We are here because on 23 October 1993, a twelve year old child named Tracy Latimer was murdered by her father, and in 16 months since that event, our ears, our minds and our hearts have been assaulted by the voices of Canadians who believe that this was not a crime.

Fear brings us here. Vulnerability brings us here. Pain brings us here. Anger brings us here.

People with disabilities are afraid for our lives. We are afraid that others could be empowered to decide whether we live or die. We are afraid to be in a society which weighs the severity of a child's disability in its judgment of whether and how to avenge her murder.

People with disabilities and our allies across Canada have been touched on a very deep level by the murder of Tracy Latimer, and the subsequent and similar death of Ryan Wilkieson. We feel Tracy's vulnerability. And we feel our own vulnerability heightened as our neighbors and our colleagues suggest that there was something noble and humane in what Robert Latimer did to his daughter. We grieve Tracy's senseless death. We are pained and horrified each time we see Tracy Latimer portrayed as a creature less than fully human. We are enraged by the insinuations that Tracy's life was not worth living. We came together today with feelings of fear, vulnerability, pain and anger. And much more than that. In honor of Tracy and Ryan and other vulnerable children and adults whose names and stories we do not know, we came to affirm our humanity, our passion for life and our solidarity.

Insight brings us here. We know what it means when a society abandons its fundamental standards of respect for the dignity and Human Rights of every citizen. In a civilized society, there should be no debate about whether it is right or wrong for the more powerful to cause harm to the less powerful. It is wrong. It is wrong, no matter what the motivation or rationale.

Courage brings us here. The courage which has served us well in our daily struggles to resist the labels, to preserve our autonomy, to live with dignity and to refuse to see ourselves as we are seen by others. The courage to speak out. The courage to confront the insidious stereotypes which underlie public sympathy for Robert Latimer. Strength brings us here. The strength of conviction which sets us apart from the ambivalence and indifference of those who say that this is not an issue that affects them. The strength to say no. NO to the segregated schools. Today we are saying no to death as an option. Strength, not death, is our response to the immense personal, social and economic challenges of disability.

Solidarity brings us here. Whether or not we have disabilities, whether or not we have "severe" disabilities, whether or not our circumstances are similar to those of Tracy Latimer, we consider Tracy Latimer to be our equal. Because she was. In her humanity, in her entitlements, in her citizenship, she was everyone's equal. Yes, we came together today with feeling of fear, pain and anger. And now we bring all of our strength, all of our courage and all of our insight to this moment in the history of disabled persons in Canada—the moment to confront those who assault our ears, our hearts, our minds and our very lives with their misguided notions of "compassion". In solidarity let us affirm that our lives—however much pain, however much struggle—OUR LIVES ARE WORTH LIVING. Taking our lives to spare us OUR pain and OUR struggle is a crime. A crime that must be met with the full force of the law.

Reprinted with permission from ARCHTYPE (August 1995).

Back to Table of Contents

Forward to next section.