ALBERTA

Robert Latimer U.K.: Visa Problems Keep Advocate From Appearing At Dying Debate, Say Organizers

10/17/2012 05:10 EDT | Updated 12/17/2012 05:12 EST
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EDMONTON - The organizers of a debate on assisted suicide and mercy killings say visa issues have kept Robert Latimer from attending their event in Britain.

The Oxford Union, a student debating society that boasts an impressive list of past speakers on its website, had hoped to have the Saskatchewan farmer participate in its assisted dying debate on Thursday.

Latimer was sentenced to life in prison for the second-degree murder of his disabled daughter Tracy and is on parole.

The National Parole Board had cleared Latimer to attend the debate subject to his being granted a visa by the British government.

But Oxford Union president John Lee said Latimer contacted the group on the weekend to say he wouldn't be able to make the trip.

"He applied for the wrong visa or something," Lee said. "It was really technical ... but he essentially applied for the wrong visa, I think.

"He attempted to come without a visa and I think the Canadian government or someone close to him advised him he's not going to get in without a visa," Lee added, before asking that further questions be submitted by email.

Lee didn't respond further electronically.

The British High Commission in Canada wouldn't verify Lee's information, saying it does not talk about individual cases, and Latimer could not be reached for comment.

The U.K. Border Agency website notes that Canadians visiting the United Kingdom for less than six months generally don't need a visa, but it does recommend getting one if a traveller has a criminal record. The site says visas are required for Canadians working or volunteering for an employer in the U.K., studying for more than six months or joining family already in the country.

Tracy was 12 and suffering from cerebral palsy in 1993 when Latimer put her in the cab of his truck and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe through the back window.

He admitted what he did, but said he wanted to end his daughter's chronic, excruciating pain. He has always said he did nothing wrong.

Latimer, who is now 59, was convicted in 1994 and a year later the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal upheld the mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole for 10 years. Jurors in the case had recommended less.

The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ordered a new trial in 1997 because of errors by the RCMP and prosecutor.

Latimer's second trial concluded in November 1997 with another second-degree murder conviction.

The case was again appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, which ruled unanimously in January 2001 that Latimer had to serve 10 years in prison.

Latimer's case has been polarizing in Canada. Some feel he was a caring father who acted out of love for his daughter. Others argue leniency for him would devalue the lives of the disabled.

The Oxford Union says it has hosted numerous high-profile speakers over the years ranging from U.S. president Richard Nixon to the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa.

When the parole board granted him permission to travel, Latimer said he hoped people attending the panel discussion will realize how "crooked" the Canadian justice system has been in dealing with his case.

He currently lives in Victoria, but often travels back to his farm in Saskatchewan to be with his family.

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