Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of November 6, 2000
Blessed are the merciful
Parents of disabled children say exhibit portrays Latimer as agent of mercy
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
In 1997, Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer was convicted of the 1994 killing of his daughter Tracy, who suffered from cerebral palsy.
Today, Latimer's action is highlighted under the heading Blessed are the Merciful, part of a video showcased in the Anno Domini: Jesus Through the Centuries exhibit at the Provincial Museum of Alberta.
The video is stirring up strong feelings among parents of disabled children, so much so that the Alberta Association for Community Living is asking the museum to remove the Latimer clip from the 15-minute video that greets visitors to the exhibit.
It is also asking to have the exhibit's accompanying publication include an insert that apologizes for the inclusion of Latimer's name.
"There is no way, no matter how you slice it, that having (Latimer's) name in the exhibit would be right," said Wanda Dennelly, director of public relations for AACL and parent of a disabled son. "Under no circumstance is it OK to say that what he did was merciful."
The sequence includes news clips of Latimer, his wife, a Saskatchewan politician and the Crown prosecutor in the case, who has the last word saying, "Nobody has the right to take a life."
Latimer, who faces a 10-year prison sentence after being convicted of second-degree murder, is still free awaiting a second Supreme Court decision on his fate.
In an Oct. 27 press release, AACL president Robin Acton asked, "How can our children be so alien to the museum's understanding of humanity that it considers their murder as a merciful act rather than one which appalls and horrifies?"
The organization's national president Cheryl Gulliver added, "(The exhibit) suggests our children's lives are not worth living and that they are better off dead."
As offended as Acton and Gulliver were with the exhibit's video, Father Stephen Wojcichowsky is equally disturbed that such accusations would be made about the museum.
"There is no question in my mind that the museum is not promoting the murder of children," said Wojcichowsky, coordinator of religious education for Edmonton Catholic Schools and member of the exhibit's advisory committee. "And I am equally strong in my feeling that it does not represent (Latimer) as the model of mercy.
"It raises the question, 'What is mercy?' And that is the point of the piece."
The inclusion of Latimer in the video was neither to support nor condemn his actions, said museum curator David Goa.
"All the video does in 15 minutes is it shows the public . . . that the themes of the beatitudes are present in the 6 o'clock news today," Goa said. "It does not suggest that Robert Latimer is a merciful person . . . but that the theme of mercy is active."
Latimer is an example of the issue of mercy that is constantly being debated in our society, said Goa.
Goa said he met with the group and understands that their "concern with just the mention of his name countenances his action. I don't countenance his actions. I grieve over his action.
"I stand by the work. All I am saying is your concern and my concerns were shared by Jesus. Those themes are not just Jesus' themes. They are our themes."
Whatever the message the museum is trying to portray gets lost in the fact that it includes Latimer's name in the same sentence as mercy, said Dennelly.
Dennelly said her gut reaction to the piece was that it portrayed Latimer as "doing a merciful thing by killing his daughter."
The Latimer piece, said Dennelly, is open to interpretation. Some may interpret it Goa's way, but she felt the majority of people would see it the AACL's way.
Sister Mary Lou Cranston saw the video for the first time Oct. 30. She saw it four times and each time was haunted by the image, but never felt that it portrayed Latimer's actions as merciful.
"It tries to show how mercy is talked about and how we have to interpret it ourselves," said Cranston, director of St, Joseph's College Ethics Centre.
Cranston speculates that people who oppose the Latimer clip "are not seeing it in the complete context." The video makes you think about mercy rather than support Latimer's action as mercy, she said.
The video includes some of history's morbid and unforgettable killings and acts of violence, including the Taber shooting, the Montreal massacre, the bombings in Ireland and the Middle East and the Holocaust.
Wojcichowsky said because these events show victims rather than the perpetrators of the crime, there has been little controversy over them.
"You have people on the other side represented. I think that's what's caused the difficulty. Here you've got the agent of the crime talking; that makes it hard for some people."