A Hard Case

Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer convicted of the 1993 killing of his 12 year old severely handicapped daughter Tracy, is up for day parole on December 8. Legal experts say that it is extremely likely he will get it. Although it’s certainly an issue that sharply divides Canadians, public sentiment appears strongly on the side of Latimer, and those connected to the court system have shrugged their shoulders in helpless sympathy through the years at the case of a man for whom the law had no loopholes available.

In his second trial (the first was quashed by the Supreme Court because of jury interference by RCMP and prosecution), Latimer was found guilty of second degree murder for asphyxiating his daughter, an act normally abhorrent beyond comprehension to a loving parent, but brought on in Latimer’s claim, out of love to stop her steadily increasing suffering. In a cruel path of legal pitfalls, his jury was strangely not aware that the Canadian minimum for second degree murder is 25 years, 10 years without full parole, as they recommended a sentence of one year jail and one year house arrest to the presiding judge. Confronted with what they had inadvertently done in the aftermath of the trial, several jury members wept. Only too aware of the jury intent versus the cold Canadian law, the judge attempted to foil the mandatory requirements with a ruling that the sentence was “cruel and unusual punishment” and grounds for exemption, but this was overturned in appeal and this supported by the Supreme Court. With the usual legal wrangling and court time, Latimer and his wife and other two children spent years following the charge dealing with the court system, and he only began his 25 year sentence following the Supreme Court decision in 2001, with some allowance for time served. Continue reading

Remembering again . . .

For the last ten years or so of my teaching, I arranged the Remembrance Day services at our high school, when dwindling numbers of WWII vets would come and be cheered by the interest the students demonstrated on that day. Remembrance Day posters and samples of student work assigned by teachers would decorate the halls and the gymnasium. Our huge Styrofoam cenotaph cross, made by a former Industrial Arts teacher, would have been hauled out of storage and patched up to take centre spot on the stage. Following each of two services, students would come onto the stage and be allowed to stick their poppies into the foam, their own little gesture of remembrance.

Very few of them knew a lot about the wars. Obsessed as we have been over the last decades with getting “Canadian content” into our history, the war years have tended to fall into a chapter of history texts that teachers struggled to get covered in the spring, following a year’s march through the course that left birch bark canoes, “coureurs-de-bois”, John Cabot, and Wolfe & Montcalm scattered along the path. Certainly a whole course could be taught on any week of one of the wars—try to cover it all in a hurried chapter in spring.

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Thinking in the Dark

I had notions of writing this article on Saturday, but the power was flickering as former hurricane Noel probed its way into Nova Scotia. The notion might have returned on Sunday, but at that time we were without power, and I was walking from room to room, flicking on light switches out of habit, and flicking them off again out of common sense.

We went 16 hours without power, all because of a little jumper wire between the main line outside out house and the pole transformer being off and swinging in the breeze. A ten minute repair job, but with whole communities off the grid due to the storm, we weren’t a top priority.

We were fairly geared up for the event, since when we first built it seemed that longer duration power outages were a regular winter event (thankfully there hasn’t been that many since). Our furnace burns oil or wood, and while we can’t “blow” the heat around, when the power is off I remove the doors from the furnace blower compartment, keep open the basement doors, and like a central heating furnace of old (remember those big black grates in the hall floor?), we let the heat rise and fall of its own accord. We have lamps and candles, and if needed I haul out a propane camp stove for primitive cooking. Water is a bit more of a problem, but I ran off four water cooler bottles before things started.

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