Canadian Case Studies about Disability Rights

R v. Latimer  (2001)

Robert Latimer confessed to the second-degree murder of his severely disabled twelve-year old daughter Tracy. He claimed he had killed her out of compassion and necessity, because her condition caused her constant pain and great suffered. At trial, he was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment for life with no eligibility for parole for 10 years, the mandatory minimum sentence for second-degree murder, despite the jury indicating that he should only serve one year in jail. The Court of Appeal replaced the sentence with the lower suggestion from the jury, making him eligible for parole after one year.  The Supreme Court of Canada restored the original 10 year sentence, finding that the mandatory minimum applied, regardless of the sympathetic assessment of the situation and of Mr. Latimer’s intent to protect his daughter from further suffering.

Eldridge v. B.C (1990)

John and Linda Eldridge are deaf and communicate through sign language. In 1990 the government of B.C. stopped providing free sign language interpretation in its medical facilities, and the Eldridges brought a case claiming discrimination, because they were no longer able to communicate effectively with their doctors. After a lengthy trial process, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in their favour. It held that being able to communicate with one’s doctor was a basic medical need, and that as an agency providing a service guaranteed by the government, hospitals are obliged to provide an interpreter so that deaf patients can have the same access to health care as hearing patients.

Auton v. B.C. (2004)

In Canada, most medically necessary treatments are paid for by government. The family of Connor Auton, who has autism, sought to have the Government of British Columbia pay for an experimental treatment that helps autistic children develop cognitive, social and communication skills and is often a part of the education process.  When the government refused to pay for the treatment, they claimed of a s. 15 violation. Although lower courts found in their favour, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed earlier decisions, finding that the government was only responsible for core health care.

Case Study Research or Discussion Questions:

  1. How do you feel about the outcome in each case? How did the results in each case protect people with disabilities?  Explain your answers.
  2. Review the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Find examples from the above cases in which you feel the Convention was and was not followed.
  3. In all three cases, Canadian courts followed the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Do you believe that, if they had followed the U.N. Convention instead, the outcomes would have been more favourable? Less? The same?
  4. Do you believe that the rights of persons with disabilities are adequately protected by Canadian law? If so, why do you believe Canada has signed on to the U.N. Convention? If not, would the U.N. Convention do a better job? What steps could you take to make your views known to policy-makers?