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Under Arrest? - R v Latimer - Katie Rothwell

The case of R v Latimer is not your typical murder case; in fact, it is far from it. R v Latimer is a case that made headlines across Canada. This was not because it was a gruesome murder, gang-related violence, or a drug deal gone bad; but because it was a case that presented a grave moral dilemma. This case had both the jury and many Canadians questioning, was Robert Latimer a murderer who should be fully punished or was he a loving father doing what he thought he had to do to end his young daughter’s continued suffering.

However, the issue with R v Latimer does not end at the moral dilemma it poses. This case provided an array of issues that would see it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC). One of the main themes surrounding the issues in this case is that of arrest. Namely, for an arrest to be lawful does an officer have to explicitly state that a person is under ‘arrest’?

Robert Latimer was the father of Tracy Latimer, who suffered from cerebral palsy and was quadriplegic. Tracy’s condition was severe, and she was subject to constant pain. In Tracy’s short lifetime she had undergone several surgeries and suffered daily from numerous seizures. Due to her condition, Tracy was unable to function in her daily life and required constant care and assistance from her parents. Having watched his daughter continuously suffer, Mr. Latimer was desperate to take away his daughter’s pain. However, there was little to no hope that Tracy’s condition would ever improve. Due to the grave prognosis of Tracy’s condition, Mr. Latimer felt that he had only one option - to take Tracy’s life.

While the rest of the Latimer family was attending church, Mr. Latimer killed Tracy by carbon monoxide poisoning. He then laid Tracy back in bed and upon his wife finding Tracy’s lifeless body and a call to 911, Mr. Latimer professed Tracy died in her sleep. However, upon there being no obvious signs of a cause of death, an autopsy of Tracy’s body was ordered. It then became apparent that Tracy did not die in her sleep but died from carbon monoxide poisoning. Having been the only one with Tracy during the moments leading up to her death, the RCMP quickly narrowed in on Mr. Latimer.

RCMP sought help from the General Investigation Section at North Battlefield, Saskatchewan. Investigators decided to pay a visit to the Latimer farm to question the family and detain Mr. Latimer. Arriving at the Latimer’s, investigators spoke to Mr. Latimer in the back of their unmarked police car, which Mr. Latimer willfully entered. While speaking with Mr. Latimer, the investigators informed him that what they had to say, “has very serious consequences and he should listen very closely.” They then went on to say, “you are being detained for investigation into the death of your daughter Tracy.” As a result, the officers informed Mr. Latimer of his right to seek counsel and his right to remain silent. Mr. Latimer assured the officers he understood what was being said to him and informed them he did not want to obtain a lawyer. It should be noted that at no point did the officers explicitly use the word ‘arrest’ when talking to Mr. Latimer.

Before leaving for questioning at the North Battlefield detachment Mr. Latimer requested; he be allowed to change his clothes. Officers agreed but advised Mr. Latimer he would not be allowed to enter back into his home alone as he was now in custody. Officers then accompanied Mr. Latimer into his home and escorted him back to the unmarked police car.

When they arrived at the North Battleford detachment investigators repeated to Mr. Latimer the seriousness of the matter he was in; they then proceeded to read him his rights. Denying his right to counsel and his right to remain silent Mr. Latimer went on to provide a full oral and written confession to killing his daughter Tracy. Officers then informed Mr. Latimer he was being held for murder.

One year later, Robert Latimer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for ten years. Eventually, Latimer’s case made its way to the SCC, where several issues would be decided on. One of these key issues was whether “the failure to inform [Mr. Latimer] that he had been ‘arrested’ and that he could be charged with murder violates s. 10(a) of the Charter?”

In coming to their decision on the issue at hand the SCC referenced the fact that Mr. Latimer had been put under de facto arrest. That although Mr. Latimer was never explicitly told he was under arrest, he was never placed in handcuffs, or any other explicit indication that he was in fact arrested; the conduct of the officers and the circumstances of the matter signaled that Mr. Latimer was in fact under arrest. The conduct of the officers that signaled an arrest had occurred was that Mr. Latimer was clearly informed that he was being detained and taken for questioning. Further, Mr. Latimer was read his rights and informed he was not allowed to re-enter his home without officer supervision, as he was in custody. As well, Mr. Latimer never questioned or resisted against the conduct of investigators but fully cooperated with what was taking place. Therefore, the SCC found it was reasonable to conclude that Mr. Latimer was, and should have known, that he was in fact under arrest for his daughter’s murder. As a result, it was found that failure to explicitly inform one of their arrest does not violate s. 10(a) of the Charter, when a de facto arrest has taken place.

Although the SCC found that conduct can be enough to signal to a person that they are under arrest; it begs the question, should the standard for concluding an arrest has occurred be raised? It appears that to avoid claims such as that made by Mr. Latimer, the requirement of explicitly informing of an arrest would remove what some may consider a grey area in the matter of arrest.


R v Latimer, [1997] 1 SCR 217.

1 R v Latimer, [1997] 1 SCR 217 at para 8.

2 Ibid.

3 R v Latimer, [1997] 1 SCR 217 at para 21.


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