Between 1990 and 1994, the average number of Canadian
murder cases in which parents killed their children was 34 each year,
according to University of Alberta psychology professor Dick Sobsey.
Between 1994 and 1998, the average rate of such deaths was 49, with 62 cases
in 1997 alone.
Why the increase in what Sobsey calls "altruistic filicide", the
killing of a child out of a belief that death is in the child's best
Sobsey, the head of J.P. Das Developmental Disabilities Centre, points to
the 1993 murder of Tracy Latimer, and the media coverage surrounding her
death and her murderer's court trials.
"After 1994, we saw a big increase in the number of parents killing their
children in Canada," Sobsey said.
Robert Latimer gassed to death 12-year-old Tracy by pumping pick-up exhaust
into the cab where he had placed her. He was convicted of murder after he
confessed killing Tracy to "end her suffering" from her developmental
Latimer is currently serving a minimum 10 years of a life sentence in a
The case has become a focal point of a debate between disability rights
advocates who see Tracy's death as one of countless examples of extreme
abuse upon people with disabilities, and people who believe that "mercy
killing" is justified when the victim has a severe disability. Most on both
sides agree, however, that the media and public sentiment favors Robert
Sobsey said that early news coverage was very sympathetic
toward Latimer, often presenting him as a loving father who wanted to end
his daughter's suffering.
"It was only during the trial that some of the things said in the media
reports - that Tracy was born dead and resuscitated, that she couldn't
tolerate pain medication - were shown to be false," said Sobsey.
"Over time the reporting became more balanced and thoughtful. But there was
an early bandwagon effect in the press."
"People will identify more closely with a person in the public eye who is
portrayed as noble or heroic," Sobsey added, according to the Edmonton
Background and past articles on the Latimer case are available from this
Inclusion Daily Express Web page:
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