THREE QUARTERS (73%) OF CANADIANS BELIEVE ROBERT LATIMER ENDED HIS DAUGHTER'S LIFE OUT OF COMPASSION

A PLURALITY (41%) BELIEVE "MERCY KILLING" SHOULD NOT EVEN BE AGAINST THE LAW

THREE QUARTERS (73%) OF CANADIANS BELIEVE ROBERT LATIMER ENDED HIS DAUGHTER'S LIFE OUT OF COMPASSION

THREE QUARTERS (73%) OF CANADIANS BELIEVE ROBERT LATIMER ENDED HIS DAUGHTER'S LIFE OUT OF COMPASSION AND SHOULD RECEIVE A MORE LENIENT SENTENCE

A PLURALITY (41%) BELIEVE "MERCY KILLING" SHOULD NOT EVEN BE AGAINST THE LAW, OTHERS (38%) SAY IT SHOULD BE ILLEGAL, BUT THE ACCUSED SHOULD BE TREATED WITH LENIENCY AND COMPASSION


This National Angus Reid/CTV/Globe and Mail poll is based on a national telephone survey conducted between December 10th and 20th, 1998 among a representative cross-section of 1,501 Canadian adults.

These data were statistically weighted to ensure the sample's regional, age and sex composition reflects that of the actual Canadian population according to 1996 Census data.

With a national sample of 1,501, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results are within +2.5 percentage points of what they would have been had the entire adult Canadian population been polled. The margin of error will be larger for other sub-groupings of the survey population.


Since Tracy Latimer, a severely disabled 12-year-old, died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1993 debate has raged regarding the appropriate punishment for a so-called "mercy killing." Initially, Robert Latimer was exempted from the mandatory sentencing for second-degree murder and given an unprecedented sentence of one year in jail and one year of confinement on his farm. Recently, however, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal imposed the minimum punishment for second-degree murder (a life sentence with no chance of parole for ten years).

Three quarters (73%) of Canadians indicate that Robert Latimer was "acting out of compassion and should receive a more lenient sentence." In fact, a plurality (41%) of Canadians believe "mercy killing" "like in the Latimer case" should "not be against the law under appropriate circumstances." Another 38% say "mercy killing" should still be illegal, "but people who do it should be treated with leniency and compassion."

The following are the highlights of an Angus Reid Group/Globe and Mail/CTV national telephone survey conducted between December 10th and 20th, 1998 among a representative sample of 1,501 Canadian adults. With a national sample of this size, one can say with 95 percent certainty that the overall results are within +2.5 percentage points of what they would have been had the entire adult Canadian population been polled.

Three Quarters (73%) of Canadians Believe in More Lenient Sentences for "Mercy Killing"

Respondents were told that: Robert Latimer was charged with second degree murder for deliberately ending his daughter Tracy's life. Tracy Latimer was severely disabled and in constant pain. Initially, Robert Latimer received a special two-year sentence for committing second-degree murder. Recently, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal set aside that ruling and imposed the minimum punishment for second-degree murder, which is a life sentence with no chance of parole for ten years. They were then asked which view was closest to their own.

Three quarters (73%) of Canadians believe that "given the pain that Tracy Latimer lived through on a daily basis, Robert Latimer was acting out of compassion and should receive a more lenient sentence." Another 23% argue that "he murdered an innocent child who was not able to protect herself and, therefore, Robert Latimer should pay the full penalty for second-degree murder." Only 4% of respondents were unable or unwilling to choose between the two arguments provided.

  • Regionally, residents of Alberta (66%) are less likely to support a more lenient sentence for Robert Latimer than the national average (73%).
  • There is no variation based on gender - men (73%) and women (73%) are equally likely to support more lenient sentencing for Robert Latimer.
  • Those aged 18 to 34 (29%) are more likely than those in other age categories (35-54, 21%; 55+, 18%) to opine that "an innocent child who was not able to protect herself" was killed and therefore Latimer "should pay the full penalty for second-degree murder."

Should "Mercy Killing" be Legal? 41% Say it Should not be Against the Law

When presented with the following three options pertaining to "mercy killing" in general:

1. "Mercy killing," like in the Latimer case, should be treated like any other murder.

2. "Mercy killing," should remain illegal, but people who do it should be treated with leniency and commission.

3. Under appropriate circumstances, "mercy killing," should not be against the law.

A plurality (41%) of Canadians state that "mercy killing" should not be illegal under "appropriate circumstances." Another 38% feel it should remain illegal, however, those who do it should "be treated with leniency and compassion." Opposed to these more lenient approaches, 18% of Canadians feel "mercy killing" should be "treated like any other murder." A mere 2% of the population is unable or unwilling to express an opinion.

  • Saskatchewan/Manitoba (32%, the home region of Latimer) and Quebec (33%) are less likely than other Canadians (national average, 41%) to support legalizing "mercy killing" under the "appropriate circumstances."
  • Regionally, Quebecers (50%) are more likely than the national average (38%) to choose to treat "mercy killing" as an illegal act, but one in which the accused should be treated with "leniency and compassion."
  • Respondents aged 55 and older (46%) are more likely than those between 18 and 34 (33%) and those who are 35 to 54 (38%) to argue for more leniency and compassion when a death is the result of a "mercy killing."

For further information, please contact:

Dr. Darrell Bricker
Executive Vice-President
Angus Reid Group
(416) 324-2900

More insights about Public Sector

Society