We're not little children anymore in our post-9/11 world. The ugly, adult reality that our collective home can indeed be violated is disturbing enough; that our supposed caretakers launched us into battle on either faulty or mercenary reasoning is worse. And perhaps it is only the lesser of two evils that our tragedies are sometimes offset, not by heroes' tales, but by the tragedies of others.

As a writer, I am constantly involved in the tragedies of others, though truthfully it's a defense I've always used; by knowing human nature at its worst, I can't be taken by complete surprise, and if preventing an attack isn't possible, at least the damage can be offset with an understanding of all the possibilities humanity affords. And so it was with this shell-shocked bravado that I began to read the tale of two "morally vacuous, would-be hipsters from Southern Ontario"--convicted Canadian serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka had little to teach me, in post-9/11 America.

In the absence of the familiar, sometimes we invent what we need and sometimes we forget the invention was only intended to weather us through a storm, as when you hold a folded newspaper over your head, and run to get out of the rain. Once you’re safely inside, you don’t forget to throw the newspaper away, but the process isn’t as automatic with stereotypes and prejudices, as it is with soggy newspapers. Sometimes deliberate misperception is all that’s possible, for a while.

In a crisis we perceive what is tolerable as we mentally adjust; we narrow our awareness to all but what seems necessary to our psychological survival. Presented with the horror of the Ken and Barbie Killers, the collective psyche shifts to fight-or-flight mode, the swiftest, simplest explanation will do for now. A primitive radar scans the horizon for the most accessible roles, and we assign the hunter-predator, dragging his mate behind him by her hair. It’s human nature not to go shopping in a hurricane. It’s the nature of a child to search out some consistency in this world.

But as human nature dictates, whatever we can imagine is darker and more fantastic than what is, and what began as rumors and theory about the Bernardo and Homolka story turned into fact when the rumors were more titillating and the theories more convenient than the reality. The Canadian government issued media and publication bans, a tenet of their law unfamiliar to most Americans and highly questionable in a supposedly free society. The atmosphere in Canada became surreal: American newspapers were smuggled across the border and whatever could not be found in print, the emerging force of online users would provide. The picture of Canadian justice we see in the Bernardo/Homolka case is even reminiscent of Anthony Burgess' socialized society in A Clockwork Orange.

According to Burgess, his clockwork orange Alex, is: " a creature who can only perform good, or evil...meaning that he has the appearance of an organism, but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil or the almighty State." The metaphor accurately describes the final chapter of the Bernardo/Homolka saga, as well; both are cautionary tales that more often than evil and good, our only choice is to determine as best we can what truly is the lesser of two evils.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the Ludovico Technique, a form of aversion therapy combining violent, sexual images with nausea-inducing drugs, in A Clockwork Orange the ruling political party gathers an assortment of government workers and officials in an auditorium; they watch as State-hired actors bait and assault our anti-hero, Alex, who has recently suffered through this two-week "treatment" program.

In the dystopian world of A Clockwork Orange, Alex's only real protector is the prison chaplain, who, appalled by this display, rises to his feet and cries: "Choice. The boy has no real choice, has he?...He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of choosing....if a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man."

While the prison chaplain's point is an impassioned one, its counterpoint is swiftly raised by the official who originally hand-picked Alex for a treatment candidate: "Padre, these are subtleties. We're not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime-and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons...Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works."

Before he’s betrayed by them, Alex’s fellow gang members are hoping to persuade their leader it would be wise to increase the haul on their nightly prowls. Georgie, Alex’s right hand man, tries, without success—“You think and talk like a little child, brother ...the big, big money’s in the shiny stuff, the diamonds, the ice”. And Alex answers him with the question: “Have you not got everything you need?”

Determining the lengths to which a government needs to go to protect its good people from its evil ones is a thankless enough task, and when the prospect before the court is of two principle perpetrators of a crime, how does a law-enforcing governing-body go about choosing which criminal to favor? In the plea-bargaining process, the better liar must be the odds-on favorite, and while I believe she did her best, one of the many things still bothering people about the Deal with the Devil, as Homolka’s plea bargain arrangement came to be known, is that Karla wasn’t a very good liar. Bothersome, too, is that the governing-law-enforcing body didn’t seem much concerned about how obvious a lie she was telling. According to the Crown, “the point” which necessitated the Deal with the Devil was putting Paul Bernardo in prison. And making sure he stayed there for a good long time.

Paul Bernardo should be in prison for a good long time. For his crimes, prison is precisely where he needs to be. At his trial all six hours of the infamous sex tapes were played on a virtual loop, and the content of the couple's home movies would have made Alex in his natural state, flinch. But the jury also saw the immunity-protected Karla Homolka starring in that ghastly video--not as the "compliant victim" of her "sexual sadist" husband the prosecution made her out to be, but as every bit Bernardo's female counterpart. And after what was basically a pissing contest between the various facets of law enforcement and the Crown, the highly unpopular result was that Ms. Homolka would be leaving government custody in what amounted to the fortnight Alex spent enduring the Ludovico Technique.

The Crown’s refusal to revoke the Deal with the Devil was predicated on the same faceless logic the government official in Alex’s world invoked. Time is money, and the millions already wasted on the Green Ribbon Task Force, the prosecution lawyers, their assistants, the time and money put into preparing Karla Homolka as a witness against her ex-husband—for the moment, suffice it to say a hell of a lot of money had been spent. People tend to make poor judgments when there’s a lot of money at stake; with a hell of a lot of money at stake, this wasn’t going to be a pissing contest. And whether it’s there, or here, or where have you, all law-enforcing, governing bodies operate more by their nature than by their design: they move ever forward, in a shark-like fashion, and sometimes they're morally vacuous—like Paul and Karla.

Journalist and trial observer Trish Wood states, “Two-and-a-half years after Tammy (Homolka) died, Karla Homolka sat in a hotel room at the appropriately named Journey's End Motel in Whitby, Ont., giving her videotaped statements under oath to two members of the Green Ribbon task force. Green Ribbon was set up to investigate the French and Mahaffy murders, and by talking to police Homolka was holding up her end of the first of two plea arrangements. In this first one, the Crown agreed it would not prosecute her and she would serve only 12 years if she testified against her ex-husband -- but only if she told the truth.

"On this day, the officers were hearing the details concerning a third victim, Karla's little sister Tammy. Homolka's story was that she and Bernardo planned a surreptitious sexual assault on her sister; that she forged a prescription for a sleeping medication known as Halcion to keep the teen from waking during the attack; and that she stole the bottle of halothane from the veterinary clinic where she worked.

"Homolka was taking a big risk in saying what she said. If she lied, the plea bargain would be off. But she was also aware that the deal could be canceled – and she'd probably face murder charges -- if by her own hand she had "stopped the breath" of any of the girls, including Tammy. It's not clear from the videotape if the officers recording her words had seen the photo of Tammy's face.”

In the photograph a pretty, young, blond-haired woman lies dead on a steel gurney, under mercilessly bright hospital lighting, a large, red, burn covering a side of her face. The edges of this burn are so clearly defined it’s as if someone placed a piece of bright red rubber across her head. In contrast to Homolka’s story that it was caused by dragging Tammy across the carpet hurriedly in an attempt to revive her, from the picture it is clear that the burn is chemical in nature.

On cross-examination, Paul Bernardo’s defense attorney, John Rosen, put the photograph of her dead sister Tammy, in front of Homolka, and asked her to identify it. After confirming it was her sister, Homolka observed, “She didn’t look that bad when I saw her.”

The Ludovico technique was a ruthless enough choice, but everyone, including Alex, understood why it was chosen; we cannot say the same about the Crown's apparent choice in moving ever forward regarding immunity for Karla Homolka. Still, in the end, Paul Bernardo will pay for the bulk of the couple's crimes, and as long as Canada is protected from the Crown’s candidate for the greater evil slot, doesn’t that tell us what law-enforcing, governing bodies care about?

Through some very helpful Canadian citizens I learned that Karla Homolka’s name starts making headlines again 'round about every election period, so all it really tells us is that they care about being re-elected. And unfortunately for nosy Americans like me, and for Canada, a publication ban made it certain that the truth about the “deal with the devil” wouldn’t be in all the papers.

Karla Homolka was chosen as the lesser of two evils, and in turn, the Deal with the Devil plea arrangement became so loudly denounced that “Why did the Crown choose Karla”, was practically chanted like a children’s rhyme. Details of the story leaked out slowly and clandestinely and in response to the media blackout, the emerging internet community, among others, invented the truth it needed—and Canada was accused of “behaving like a third-world dictatorship”.

With six and a half hours of Ken and Barbie’s homemade videotape, DNA evidence from multiple Scarborough rape cases, and Homolka’s well-rehearsed and fine-tuned testimony against the man she told a month after meeting, “it would be cool” if he were a rapist—Paul Bernardo wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, or ever, likely. And since Karla Homolka had clearly violated the terms of her plea agreement by lying about her role in the sexual assaults and thereby put her role in the murders in question, it seems as if the Crown would have taken one observer’s suggestion that where Bernardo was going, he should have company. The Crown apparently felt otherwise; it had not gotten everything it needed out of Paul Bernardo.

The government official who chose Alex as a test subject did so because he was, in the official's words, “…enterprising, aggressive, outgoing, young, bold, vicious”. Certainly the same could be said of Paul Bernardo, but an entire courtroom had just seen the Crown’s star witness, equally bold, outgoing and aggressive, and starring in the multiple videotaped sexual assaults of young women--crimes for which, mind you, she was never charged. It’s one thing to hold a newspaper over your head when it’s raining, and make a run for it; it’s quite another to wear a soggy newspaper on your head at the water-cooler.

Perhaps that’s thinking and talking like a little child. Or maybe it’s a subtlety.

Paul Bernardo was arrested in the winter of 1993, and went to trial in the summer of 1995. Two years, but no “two for Tammy years” offer was forthcoming here. In all that two year period, it was apparently too taxing an effort to coordinate a conveniently never made public police report with the emergency services records for the night of Tammy Homolka’s death, and to deduce from that evidence who was truly the lesser of two evils.

Trish Wood writes, “Early on Dec. 24, 1990, almost a year to the day that Karla Homolka became engaged to Paul Bernardo, ambulance workers arrived on the scene just seven minutes after they were called. They found the teenager Tammy in very bad shape. Karla Homolka has never said exactly what time the sex attack occurred, but given what Bernardo and Homolka told the police, it appears that Bernardo and the two sisters went down to the rec room to put on a movie at about 11 p.m. They only watched for 15 minutes, meaning that the attack probably began and ended some time between 11:30 and midnight. Karla said Tammy got into trouble and started vomiting "moments" after the sex attack, which Bernardo's videotape shows lasting between six and nine minutes. But the ambulance call wasn't made until 1:18 -- roughly an hour later.

Homolka maintained in her statements -- and the video of the sex attack is said to confirm -- that Tammy was lying on her back, slightly on her right side. But, according to one post-mortem examination, the sharply defined borders of the burn indicate that the full weight of Tammy's head was pressing her left cheek into the chemical pooled beneath it. This analysis suggests Tammy must have been dosed with a lot more halothane once she was in a completely different position. As if anticipating having to explain, Homolka's statements are full of changes in Tammy's position (except the one seen on tape during the sexual assault). At one point Homolka said that “maybe she just got up and flipped over on to the other side. I don't know."

The post-mortem examiner notes that then any move by Tammy must have happened after the sexual assault was taped. Supporting the idea that Tammy was dosed with much more halothane, is the fact that those who've seen the assault on tape did not notice a burn on Tammy's cheek. Paul Bernardo unintentionally supported this theory when he said, in the curiously never made public statement, that he fell asleep after the sexual assault and that Homolka wakened him some time later with the news that Tammy was in trouble. Bernardo said Tammy appeared to be dead.”

A friend of mine sent me an email about this case and in the message she refers to the “idiots who wouldn't go back on Karla's deal”. I know how she feels and, I’m guessing, so does Paul Bernardo. 

He may even know something about how we feel that we don’t know. After 14 years of solitary isolation in the Kingston Prison for Men and no forseeable way out of a lifetime of more of the same, Paul Bernardo probably understands the need to condemn the men responsible for sanctioning his ex-sweetheart’s sweetheart deal. He may also know how mistaken we are, and if he does, I doubt that it’s a subtlety to him.

Mistaken because perhaps early on someone suspected we’d be so bewitched by the Bernardo/Homolka tale we’d keep pounding on the bar asking who? Paul or Karla ? as if hypnotized. And if we're all hypnotized looking at that one governmental blunder then we aren't able to see a larger picture, which might be a law-enforcing governing-body so fundamentally flawed it can’t reverse its own errors and needs to be booted out of office, like the one in Alex’s world. Looking at one Ontario courtroom you can't see the entire judicial system it's a part of. Idiots? Who’s still going on about Karla? Shrewd piece of business that, perhaps, calculating and shrewd. Like Paul Bernardo.

We're not little children anymore, in our post 9/11 world, and certainly we accept the reality that governments lie as one more inconvenient truth. But while as children or adults we may not have a choice about the truth we’re told, as men and women we have the final word about the truth we choose.

Unless Paul Bernardo is linked to acts of terrorism we’re additionally unaware of, the United States would never have gone to the lengths Canada has to incarcerate him safely. Our concept of liberty and the role of government are inextricably bound, and if we feel a right's been denied us, we will civil disobedience our way into getting that right, regardless whether we have any idea what to do with it. We are a nation of children, we think simply, like children; we’re boorish, we lack subtlety, and our country was born of scapegoats, and bluff-callers and rebels. America seeks out conflict, and Canada looks to avoid it, even if the unthinkable-to-Americans media or publication ban is the price of avoiding that conflict.

Certainly the government of the United States withholds information from its people; we all know about that little matter of Mr. Bush’s War. But in our post-9/11 world, more often than not we must decide which is the lesser of two evils, and the question within that bleak scenario is whether it’s more encouraging to feel you are worthy of the effort of an outright lie, than to be told you can’t handle the truth.

The 8’x4’ corner of Kingston Prison that Paul Bernardo calls home these days is the culmination of Canadian law and order thinking. The Crown can assure its people that Paul Bernardo is clothed, washed and fed at government expense, and lives somewhat comfortably but under constant guard. It's not like those dangerous American prisons; we’re humane, they can say, and we treat that animal Bernardo far better than he ever treated us—and to a degree, they’re right. He suffers no evil there, with the exception of one primary and defining element in the humanitarian effort: the ideal of liberty, lionized in pre-and post 9/11 America, is woefully lacking in Canadian penological thought.

From Canada’s law and order perception, America still looks like the wild west; for their money, the United States is far too lenient with its prisoners, too lax in its ability to curtail their movement. If Jeffrey Dahmer been a Canadian prison inmate, he would most certainly be alive today. While American popular opinion might regard Dahmer's murder as none too great a loss, Correctional Services Canada would have regarded it as an enormous loss, to the level of morale among Canadian corrections officers, that is: there has not been a death by violence in a Canadian prison since 1971.

The United States has no comparable record; Jeffrey Dahmer chose to make his bed in the general population, and roamed the halls performing janitorial duties with no hue and cry from anyone about the inevitable outcome of such a loose arrangement. The emphasis is on liberty in America, and liberty is choice; perhaps choosing death-by-inmate isn’t prison policy, but it is liberty, in any state of the Union.

These days in his always lit and always guarded 8' x 4' solitary isolation cell, 6-footer Paul Bernardo lives without the benefit of choice and now he stars in another videotape sans Ms. Homolka. A security camera belonging to Correctional Services Canada keeps a video record of his every twitch or sigh, and while Canada goes on celebrating its humanitarian fame, if you should ask how these conditions are in any way correcting Paul Bernardo's capacity to choose the moral high road, you’re shushed before you can say “Abu Ghraib” in our post 9/11 world.

Having served her complete 12-year sentence for two manslaughter charges, Karla left prison in 2005, and the hullabaloo over Homolka sounded up again; with it came a tilt of the head back at Bernardo, whose current lawyer, Tony Bryant, stated, "Paul Bernardo is anxious to speak with the media, and re-assert what he has always maintained: Karla Homolka was responsible for the deaths of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French." It is an altogether reasonable request by American standards--but not by Canadian ones, as Donna Marrin, the Warden for Kingston Prison for Men responded, "Correctional Services Canada does not at this time feel media attention for Paul Bernardo would be in his or the institution's best interests".

Under that restriction, it’s as well as not that inmate Bernardo is clinically diagnosed as a malignant narcissist. By holding himself in such high esteem, he wouldn’t make an attempt to cheat the Crown and “snuff it”, and it’s only a bit of tangle for those of us given to thinking about such things that malignant narcissist Paul Bernardo is in the custody of a facility purporting to be ”correctional”.

When asked if the prisoner had, or was currently receiving any treatment or therapy such as that well afforded to Homolka, the official forthcoming answer was, “this is a non-issue for inmate Bernardo”, and some think all of this is still far more than is deserving; each year, Canada spends roughly $125, 000 for Paul Bernardo’s care and feeding, and he has a television, writing materials and books to read. More than once it’s been “suggested” that I might drop the hint to Mr. Bernardo to think upon his evil ways, and suffer, and only a certain indelicacy prevents me from pointing out, it’s unlikely that he would, being an untreated malignant narcissist.

A 2006 newspaper article quotes a former Bernardo guard as saying during her time on that watch, “Paul was always cheerful”. Perhaps I am the only one much heartened by that news, but like the prison chaplain in A Clockwork Orange I would also have to ask how much choice he has. A government lauded for its humanitarianism and seeking to avoid conflict at all costs must be pleased with Bernardo’s cheerfulness; the image of a smiling, all’s well in the Bernardo-cell prisoner would continue to hammer home, though the Deal with the Devil might have been unpopular, the point is that it worked.

"If a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man", the Padre in A Clockwork Orange says, so making the large assumption that the Kingston Prison for Men isn't conducting zoological studies, the Crown spent over $11, 000, 000 of the taxpayer's money to arrange the slow but sure entombment of enemy of the State Paul Bernardo; I certainly have no future plans to speak on his behalf in the unlikely event of a parole hearing, but if anyone’s of the opinion that Paul Bernardo has it too good, I suggest they try spending a week locked in a small closet with a light bulb over their head.

Filmmaker Michael Moore is fond of pointing out that given its size and population, crime rates are lower in Canada than in the United States-but of course, that all depends on what you mean by "crime."

The information concerning Karla Homolka’s crimes is available, and you can find it the same way I did. But what I found was not the story that continues to be bandied about; I found the story of a crime Karla Homolka committed without Paul Bernardo, without his direction or his compliance, and apparently without his knowledge. The Crown, which incidentally also ordered the publication and media blackouts on Homolka’s “trial”, went out of its way to ensure there was this understanding: Paul Bernardo is clearly guilty, of all of it. And it would seem that way, once you omit niggling little details such as police reports taken at the time an incident occurred. Much safer bet, it seems, to ride on the testimony of unrepentant, plea-bargaining ex-wives.

Paul Bernardo is clearly guilty of what he said he was. For the rest of it, we’ve only Miss Homolka, whose story changed as much as the weather that a media ban might prevent you from hearing about does.

Before we elected him to the highest office in the land, not once but twice, George W. Bush was a failed Texas businessman who never held a single post or job his family didn’t arrange and which he subsequently lost. Depending on your point of view, he is directly or indirectly responsible for the deaths of over 4,000 of his countrymen—and Dubya will never see the inside of even a county jail cell unless he’s touring the facility on some post-Presidential dog-and-pony show.

But whether it’s Bush’s convenient assurance that Saddam Hussein’s wrath will rain down on us in the form of a mushroom cloud, or the Crown’s insistence that while Karla Homolka no longer poses any danger, no one’s safe unless Paul Bernardo stays in Kingston until his clock runs down, regardless of the source or nature of the threat we’re told is imminent, when fear makes choices for us, the point is, nothing works.

In the end, we settled for a fairy-tale: an evil prince, a helpless maiden. Two images from childhood is the way it’s still portrayed. All that talk and all that time spent leveling out the playing field, for modern men and women in a modern world—only to run and hide inside a fairy-tale at the first real sign of danger. We tell ourselves it’s justifiable, in the end; it banished the evil prince to his prison castle turret. But the story of Paul and Karla isn’t a fairy-tale—and we’re not little children anymore…

In the past year I have asked many Canadians what they think of the disparity in the sentences Bernardo and Homolka received. Some people say that Karla was physically and mentally abused by Paul Bernardo; she was coerced into committing her heinous deeds and obviously a victim, some people say. Paul on the other hand, is called a monster or a beast; some people say they think he’s less than human.

But those who hold that opinion are only aware of Paul Bernardo through the choices that he made. And only when a man cannot choose does he cease to be a man.

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