Gary Bauslaugh of Victoria, B.C., formerly of Duncan, is a retired university administrator and former president of the Humanist Association of Canada who was instrumental in helping the Saskatchewan farmer Robert Latimer gain parole after seven years of imprisonment for the murder of his desperately ill daughter. The story of that mercy killing and its judicial and social aftermath is re-told in Bauslaugh's Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Mercy (Formac 2010), endorsed by the Honourable Kim Campbell and lawyer/novelist William Deverell.

All juries are not created equal

In 1993, prairie farmer Robert Latimer-by all reports, a loving and dutiful father-ended the life of his severely ill, twelve-year-old daughter Tracy, who lived in constant agony. Rather than see her further mutilated by body-altering operations that would bring her little relief, Latimer administered carbon monoxide poisoning in the cab of his truck because he believed that was the most merciful approach.

After seven years of legal proceedings, a jury reluctantly believed they must uphold the law of the land. Latimer was found guilty of second degree murder and sent to prison.

Having written a book about the case in 2010, Gary Bauslaugh now asserts in The Secret Power of Juries (Lorimer $22.95) that Latimer went to prison largely because his jury did not know about the validity of jury nullification.

"In most countries with legal systems based on English Law,"; writes Bauslaugh, "juries have the power to act independently in the sense that they are fully entitled to come to any verdict they wish, regardless of what the laws.";

A Supreme Court jury in 1988 had acquitted abortion pioneer Henry Morgentaler because his defence attorney had informed the jury, "it is up to you and you alone to apply the law to this evidence and you have a right to say it shouldn't be applied."; Unfortunately a proclamation made by Chief Justice Dickson in 1988 hampered Latimer's defence team from mentioning the legal phenomenon to jury that is called "jury nullification,"; essentially the power of juries to act independently of the law.

Bauslaugh was inspired to write The Secret Power of Juries by a holiday in London in 2012, during which he toured the Old Bailey courthouse, scene of the famous 1670 trial of the Quaker William Penn who took a courageous stand against repressive laws that restricted religious freedom. (His jurors were imprisoned for rendering an acquittal that went against the law of the land.)

By chance, Bauslaugh and his wife also stayed at a hotel run by Quakers in the Bloomsbury district called the Penn Club, whereupon it dawned on Bauslaugh that jury nullification had been alive and well in English law since 1670, during the reign of King Charles II. He subsequently decided to trace its course over the 340 years preceding the Latimer trial-where it might have been invoked for a radically different result if only the jury had understood their power. 978-1-4594-0505-9


Robert Latimer: A Story of Justice and Mercy (Formac 2010)

The Secret Power of Juries (Lorimer 2013) $22.95)

[BCBW 2013]