Does hate always look hateful? Or can hate adopt a kind face and the language of compassion? Or can it disguise itself as bureaucratic rectitude, fully versed in what the regulations do and do not allow? Is there hot hate and cold hate?
When you look up “emotion faces” there is no effort to depict a “hate face”. You get your angry face, your fearful face, your sad face, your pained face, even your disgusted face. But no hate face. Because hate is not an emotion. Hate is an attitude and a set of beliefs that motivates action — often violent action.
We are familiar with the angry, yelling gun- or knife-wielding expressions of hate that hit the news after a racist rally. But contrast that with the face of the cop, Derek Chauvin, whose knee crushed the throat of George Floyd, and the faces of the other cops who held his legs down or who held back horrified onlookers as the cop did the killing. Those faces would not register as “hate faces”. They perceived themselves as “just doing their job”. And yet, George Floyd died, and hate was involved.
You may wonder why I’m going on about hate on a blog that usually deals with topics around assisted suicide and euthanasia. Surely those topics are about compassion not about hate.
Fair enough. Let me try to explain.
Questions arose in my mind upon reading about a convicted murderer, Francois Belzile, 75, in Edmonton whose first-degree murder charge was reduced to manslaughter because his victim, his wife, had acquired a disability. His murderous act, a deliberate overdose of insulin, was deemed by the judge to have been motivated not by hate (which would potentially have triggered a HIGHER penalty) but by “compassion”, which the judge said, “lessens his moral responsibility for the crime”. His penalty was reduced to a couple of years of house arrest — really not much of a punishment at all for a retired man with a decent place to live. An inconvenience. A slap on the wrist.
And maybe, reading this, you are one of those Canadians who believes that this is a fair outcome for a man experiencing “caregiver burnout”, also known as “compassion fatigue”. If so, you are certainly not alone. When Robert Latimer murdered his disabled daughter in 1993, disabled people and their allies in Canada were shocked and horrified to learn that a lot of Canadians took the side of the murderer over his victim. Most Canadians found it easier to identify with a hard-working farmer, rather than with a non-speaking 12-year-old pre-adolescent with cerebral palsy. Many of them thought there should be a new category of murder — compassionate homicide — that would let the poor farmer off the hook.
Latimer murdered his daughter by placing her in the cab of his truck and running exhaust into the cab until she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Back then, in the 1990’s, the Canadian Courts, all the way up to the Supreme Court, asserted that his daughter’s life was her own and it was not okay for him to have ended it, no matter how strongly he asserted that he was doing her a favour. By contrast, this Edmonton case has received very little attention (with the exception of this excellent article published in the Globe and Mail earlier this month) and the murderer’s light sentence was not appealed by the crown, which only argued for a sentence of 4 to 6 years in the first place. Nobody appeared to take this crime very seriously. Nobody considered one of the purposes of criminal law, i.e. to discourage or deter others from taking similar measures.
What explains this extraordinary lenience for a murder that, according to my understanding of Canada’s hate crime law, should expose the murderer to higher, rather than lower, penalties? What is a hate crime? I have bolded text in the quote below to help the reader see what folks tend to skip over.
In order for police to lay a Hate-Motivated or Bias-Motivated criminal charge, there are two things that must first occur:
A criminal offence must have occurred (e.g. an assault, damage to property, uttering threats etc.). [Murder should qualify.]
Hate or Bias toward a victim must have motivated the criminal offence (e.g. because of the victim’s race, nationality, ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation etc.).
If convicted of a criminal offence and it is proven to be motivated by hate or bias, higher penalties may be imposed by the judge during sentencing.
[- Peel Regional Police version. Every police department has its own]
Perhaps it would be easier to identify the issue if we were to refer to bias crimes, rather than “hate” crimes, because hate is so … hateful! Most caregivers aren’t hateful, are they? Most husbands whose wives become disabled don’t become hateful, do they? But on the other hand, say a couple has a relationship that involves certain activities, and suddenly one member of the couple becomes disabled, and can no longer participate in those activities. Say the non-disabled member of the couple decides that the best way to demonstrate “love” for the person who is no longer independent is to take on sole responsibility for her care for seven years. That’s what Francois Belzile did.
“Around this time, Francois Belzile resolved to be his wife’s sole caregiver. … According to an agreed statement of facts, Belzile promised to take Christiane to her medical appointments and care for her as best he could, but said he would end both their lives if they crossed a “line in the sand” and were unable to live independently.” The article doesn’t report whether or not she agreed to that course of action. And in time, she fell on some steps and crossed his line. He went about making detailed plans and proceeded to end her life. His action was lethal and effective. His taking of his own life was not successful. (See my last blog post re Ambivalence.) The judge decided that his “caregiver burnout” made him “unable to form the intent for murder”, even though he clearly had done just that.
Is this a statement of love, or is this a statement of deep cultural bias? On this side of a line, you’re worth caring for, but on that side of the line, you lose your able-bodied privilege. You become one of “those people” that I, as a taxpayer, have never wanted to have to support. Your body’s failures require me to do things that I don’t want to have to do — or that I can’t do as my body too is getting older — but I don’t trust the caregivers that poke their noses into our lives when they come to help. I alone can care for you, but I can’t do it any more. So … curtains!
The ease of this “solution” really makes a mockery of the entire edifice of state-sanctioned medical assistance in dying, with its “carefully constructed safeguards” to prevent wrongful deaths at the hands of licensed medical professionals. Family caregivers are, through cases like this one, given carte blanche to end the lives of the people they care for when they “burn out” and just can’t deal with another diaper change, another fall, or another bout of pain or anxiety. Who needs a doctor or nurse practitioner? Just do it yourself with the means at hand. For Belzile, it was insulin. Latimer chose carbon monoxide. But really, a pillow would do. You can admit it, plead guilty to manslaughter if the state bothers to lay charges. Your sentence will be light and your life will be simplified.
Is this the Canada we want? Is this how the law should work? Did Christiane Belzile deserve to be cared for until the end of her natural life? Do human rights and charter rights mean anything at all?
Feel free to leave a comment below. We really need to deal with this. What kind of country do we want Canada to be? What kind of people do we want Canadians to be?
A Boston social science study said that when victims of hate crimes are interviewed, they want three things:
1) A statement from public officials denouncing the crime and the beliefs that inspired it.
2) For law officers to take the crime – and their duty to protect the vulnerable – seriously.
3) For communities to value them and make clear they don’t share the animosity that triggered the hate crimes.
In other words, behind every hate crime is a message: You are not welcome here.
Behind every strong community is another: Yes, you are.