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.
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.
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.
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
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."
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.