The Political Reality of the Bernardo/Homolka Case

A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.

—Edward Abbey


On March 24, 2004, at the 9/11 Commission hearings, senior executive counter-terrorism and intelligence expert Richard A. Clarke testified: “To the loved ones of the victims of 9/11, to them who are here in this room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you, failed you. And I failed you.”

Clarke was the only member of the Bush Administration to make such an admission. Or to offer an apology.

Our supposed caretakers launched us into battle on either faulty or mercenary reasoning. But for my generation—blasé and innately disenchanted as we are, a generation unsettled not by soup kitchens or wars in southeast Asia, but by Watergate hearings pre-empting “Scooby-Doo”— that governments lie is simply one more inconvenient truth.

It was with this shell-shocked bravado that I began to read the tale “of two morally vacuous, would-be hipsters from Southern Ontario”—assuming, as I did, that the story of convicted Canadian serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka had little to teach me, in post-9/11 America.

Paul and Karla met in 1987, when he was 23 and she was 17; they married in 1991, six months after they raped and killed Karla’s sister, Tammy, and two weeks after abducting, raping and killing 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy. The following year in April of 1992, 15-year-old Kristen French was the next young lady unlucky enough to cross paths with the Bernardos, and her fate would be the same as that of Tammy Homolka, and Ms. Mahaffy.

Three months after Paul and Karla met, a series of brutal rapes began in Scarborough, Toronto, a large suburban area where Paul Bernardo lived. Just as we had numerous confirmed intelligence reports warning us about Al-Queda and about 9/11, the DNA evidence which would link Bernardo to the Scarborough rapes sat, untested, on a shelf in a Toronto lab for over two years; finally, on February 1, 1993, the Toronto Metro police received notification of three positive DNA matches to Paul Bernardo.

Bernardo and Homolka videotaped themselves sexually assaulting Ms. Mahaffy and Ms. French, and Karla’s sister, Tammy, but a three month-long evidence search of Paul and Karla’s home would fail to produce those tapes. Nothing tied Bernardo to the murders except Homolka’s word, and Homolka claimed to be an abused wife forced to comply with the perverted wishes of her husband. In exchange for testifying against her partner-in-crime, Karla Homolka received a total sentence of twelve years, for manslaughter.

Eight months before Paul Bernardo’s trial began, however, the prosecution came into possession of the videotaped evidence, and no longer needed Homolka’s testimony to convict Bernardo. Still the Crown would not revoke the plea bargain, which was widely denounced as “the deal with the devil”, and there is a persistent “if only” myth about this case: the highly unpopular plea bargain arrangement would never have been approved—if only the police had been able to find the couples’ private video stash when they searched their home.

If only the Crown had been in possession of those tapes in 1993; if only they had seen Karla Homolka, raping a drugged and bound Leslie Mahaffy, or Kristen French; if only they had the tape of Karla standing naked over Tammy Homolka, liberally dosing her seemingly lifeless sister with Halothane, an ether-like substance Karla routinely used at the vet clinic where she worked…

As the war in Iraq became increasingly unpopular, in America too, there were some who said, “if only.” And a few who said there must be some conspiracy, afoot.

But there wasn’t some conspiracy afoot; the Crown’s decision not to rescind Homolka’s sweetheart deal wasn’t a “conspiracy” in the usual sense of the word, and it wasn’t so different from falsely linking Al-Queda and Saddam Hussein, either. Here as well as there, it’s the sort of thing that comes about by opportunity—and by opportunism. The vast majority of people in North America mistrust politicians, yet they trust the criminal justice system and value the dedication of law enforcement officials. But they do so, perhaps, in ignorance; as much as anything else, the justice system is driven by money and politics and egos.

After a two year investigation beginning with the death of Leslie Mahaffy, and the addition of a large and costly task force, Inspector Vince Bevan, the man whose job it was to apprehend the perpetrators of the French/Mahaffy murders, had clues he could not decipher and little else. An officer of Bevan’s rank should know that eyewitness accounts are notoriously unreliable; nevertheless, based on the statements of a few eyewitnesses who reported seeing two men in a cream-colored Camaro near the site of Kristen French’s abduction, the Inspector threw all his efforts and the bulk of the task force resources into a futile search for a just such a car.

Why was a man like this put in charge of all that?

Nepotism, mostly. In spite of the fact he had comparatively little field experience and was generally viewed among the rank and file as inept and incompetent when it came to actual criminal investigation, because his father had been a senior member of the Niagara Regional force—and because he was something of an unoriginal thinker who took orders well—Vince Bevan was promoted to the position of Inspector.

Bush 41 and 43 almost leap to mind, don’t they; kids, be sure to tell your parents about Inspector Bevan the next time they say you need to study harder.

On the other hand, police Inspectors don’t have the authority to arrange highly unpopular plea-bargain deals. For that you need someone of the highly unpopular lawyer profession.

In Karla: A Pact with the Devil, author Stephen Williams writes: “Just before he joined the Ministry of the Attorney General in 1992, Michael Code had established himself as one of the finest criminal lawyers in Canada. Although many of the lawyers at Code’s law firm could be described as left-leaning, liberals, or social democrats, in Michael Code’s case he was a card-carrying member of the New Democratic Party. In 1992, he did the unthinkable for an accomplished criminal defense attorney, and went over to the other side. One of Michael Code’s first official acts was the approval of a million dollars to facilitate the formation of Inspector Bevan’s nascent Green Ribbon Task Force. Intermittently, between May, 1992, and February, 1993, when Paul Bernardo was arrested, Inspector Bevan returned to the trough. Code approved numerous subsequent requests for millions upon millions of dollars to support what had become the largest police task force in Canadian law enforcement history.”

If you’re keeping score at home, so far we have a blowhard nincompoop of an Inspector officiating not only the largest criminal investigation and task force ever assembled on Canadian soil, but also the most heavily tax-payer funded. And we have a new, overly-ambitious Assistant Deputy Minister of the Attorney General, and when Karla Homolka comes into his life in 1993, it’s fair to say Michael Code has something to prove.

But as of late December 1992, Paul Bernardo was busy womping Karla in the head with a flashlight, and not too many miles away RCMP criminal profiler Ron Mackay was also busy, perusing a paper which explained how some nasty men the FBI dubbed “sexual sadists”, sometimes forced their itty-bitty wives and/or girlfriends to assist them in their heinous deeds; referring to the women as “compliant victims”, additionally this paper was an assessment of the psychological factors that predisposed these women to seek out these men. And this was the material Ron Mackay just happened to be reading when he was called upon to help explain the curious dynamic that turned big, mean Paul Bernardo and his pretty little wifelet, Karla, into a rape-and-murder-team.

Given his reading habits, it all made perfect sense to Ron Mackay—by the way, about that paper Mackay was reading—Ron Mackay was a protegé of Roy Hazelwood, the FBI agent who co-authored it. Ron Mackay would not actually meet or interview Karla Homolka, however, until a year after Paul Bernardo’s trial had ended. Ron Mackay would neither meet, nor interview, Paul Bernardo, ever. Still, he was certain he had a handle on this thing, so Ron Mackay contacted Inspector Bevan to tell him all about “Compliant Victims of the Sexual Sadist”—catchy title, hunh ?

It was good enough for the Inspector, who had been steadily going through the coffers of a tax-payer funded task force with nothing to show for it; “Compliant Victims of the Sexual Sadist” was a stroke of luck for Bevan, because it became the basis for a renewed search warrant and allowed him to take back control of his own investigation.

As late as February 6, 1993, Inspector Bevan was quoted by the press stating his belief there was no link between the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy; after almost two years and the addition of his much heralded task force, Bevan did not have a single shred of evidence against Paul Bernardo, in spite of having run his name through suspect data banks 17 times—he had actually cleared Bernardo as a suspect in the murders a year before.

Enter Karla Homolka. And Ron Mackay, and even our old friend Michael Code, and just in time too, as Bevan came that close to losing an on-again, off-again pissing contest with the Toronto Metro police, by prematurely arresting Paul Bernardo.

Arresting the citizenry without proper evidentiary back-up is a law enforcement no-no; it’s especially distressing to men like Michael Code when men like Inspector Bevan come that close to sending a multi-million dollar investigation and potential prosecution straight into the crapper, by prematurely “popping” a man like Paul Bernardo.

But once Bernardo was properly behind bars and womped upside the head with a slew of charges for some rather nasty non-bailable offenses, Michael Code went about forming what was called the “Management Committee”; that 3-member panel, plus Michael Code, made the decision to separate the prosecution of the Scarborough rapes, which was Toronto Metro’s purview and for which there was better evidence, from the prosecution of the Mahaffy/French murders which was Inspector Bevan’s territory, and which had essentially no evidence to detain Paul Bernardo on murder or any other charges.

It was Michael Code’s position, and by extension the Management Committee’s, that the murders must be dealt with first, and since you seem like a reasonable sort, you’re probably wondering, why? Paul Bernardo wasn’t going anywhere, so why not prosecute the crimes for which there is actual, physical evidence, win convictions on those charges and then proceed from there, hmmm ?

Well there is a reason, it’s not a good reason but for the moment let’s just say that while Bevan was short on actual evidence against Paul Bernardo for murder, he did have Karla Homolka, the Inspector did, and “Compliant Victims of the Sexual Sadist” was the whitewash he used to spiff her up a bit before delivering her to Michael Code and the Management Committee.

Tired? Then let’s press on.

Faced with protests and petitions, in late 1995 the Ontario government ordered an inquiry into Karla Homolka’s plea bargain arrangement with the Crown; retired Ontario judge Patrick Galligan, whose official ruling deemed the plea bargain both necessary and proper, embraces the “if only” theory in The Galligan Report, his inquiry into the Homolka deal.

“We all know that had the videotapes been available to the authorities on May 14, 1993, the Crown would never have made this resolution agreement with Karla Homolka”, says Galligan.

And “if only” that were true—but that wasn’t the case, according to the people who hammered out the deal.

Michael Code said so at the time.

In May 1995, Michael Code wrote a memo in which he says the videotapes would have made little difference to the outcome; Homolka co-operated with police, telling them about the existence of the videos and describing their contents. Had they been found earlier, wrote Code, “instead of 12 years, the sentence might have been 14 or 15 years.”

Author Stephen Williams, who would himself face charges for violating a publication ban after he allegedly posted segments of Paul and Karla’s “home movies” on his website, says it is in the government’s interest to perpetrate the myth of the videotapes: “It confuses the public and takes the onus off the ministry of the attorney-general for making the deal with Homolka”, says Williams. “But it is absolute and utter bull.”

The Criminal Code of Canada provides for a preliminary inquiry in all cases involving serious crimes.

The Criminal Code of Canada also allows the Crown to jump right over the preliminary inquiry and go straight to a trial; this is known as a “preferred indictment”.

The charges against Paul Bernardo, all of them, were preferred.

It is a very exceptional procedure and the Criminal Code goes so far as to insist that such requests require “the personal consent in writing of the Attorney General or Deputy Attorney General” of each province. Michael Code’s direct superior, Marion Boyd of the New Democratic Party, was the Attorney General in 1993, who issued the preferred indictments against Paul Bernardo.

In America, it would be the equivalent of sending someone to trial without a grand jury indictment, akin to the way our country shuttled detainees into Gitmo. Paul Bernardo needed to be in the pokey ASAP, that’s understandable up to a point. But the preferment of charges is a rarely-used legal maneuver, considered by most in the Canadian legal community as highly prejudicial and a violation of due process. And if that sounds like bleeding-heart pap to you, keep in mind Inspector Bevan had already jeopardized an attempt to bring Mr. Bernardo to justice. And that here as well as there, by violating due process you also run the risk of having guilty verdicts overturned, and setting men like Paul Bernardo loose and free of charges on which they can never be re-tried.

Now, you were asking about that prosecution strategy. Yes, rushing Paul Bernardo to trial on the murder charges was a bit odd, especially given Michael Code’s assertion that Homolka’s testimony was “paramount” to the Crown’s case; the months of preparation which preceded Karla’s nine days on the stand resulted in Paul Bernardo’s trial lasting far longer than it would’ve otherwise. Time is money, after all, and thanks to Inspector Bevan’s bungling, too much money had already been wasted—by Michael Code.

So if the Crown didn’t need Karla Homolka to convict Paul Bernardo, but heaven and earth were moved and untold millions spent propping her up as the prosecution’s star witness—what exactly did Homolka bring to the table they wouldn’t have had without her ?

For 45 minutes, on December 6, 1989, an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique; after separating the men from the women, 25 year-old Marc Lepine screamed, “I hate feminists!”, then opened fire on a classroom of female engineering students. Lepine killed 14 women before turning the gun on himself. Almost immediately, the Montreal Massacre became a galvanizing moment in which mourning turned into outrage about all violence against women.

Think of it as Canada’s 9/11, and you begin to get an idea of just how far-reaching, and how far-removed, the effects of such an event might have been and might still be.

Journalist Christie Blatchford, who covered the Bernardo trial, writes, “It is interesting to remember that Homolka’s kissy-face deal came under an Ontario attorney-general, Marion Boyd of the New Democratic government, of whom it is probably fair to say she was on a self-appointed mission to educate the world about battered women, and that it was implemented and fine-tuned by a group of boys, the lawyers of the Crown law office.”

The New Democrats, the ruling party in the early 1990′s and the party Michael Code hitched the star of his legal ambitions to, was a feminist-controlled one. Feminism is more literally a political matter in Canada than it is in the United States, which means more tax dollars are funding the causes and programs it supports; naturally, one of those causes would be domestic violence programs, and after the late December beating she received from Paul Bernardo, Karla Homolka looked like the poster girl for domestic violence—for a little while, anyway.

At the time, there was quite a strong contingent of women Michael Code answered to politically and officially, who insisted on the image of Homolka as a victim. One of those women was Code’s direct superior, Attorney General Marion Boyd; Boyd, as you’ll recall, issued the preferred indictments against Paul Bernardo. And like Inspector Bevan, Boyd also prematurely announced Paul Bernardo’s arrest for murder.

There’s just so many times you can stand in front of the press corps assuring them of an imminent arrest before you look silly if you don’t arrest someone. And there’s that “if only” thing again.

The DNA evidence from the Scarborough rapes sat, untested, on a shelf somewhere in Toronto for over two years; a police artist’s sketch brought in many calls naming Paul Bernardo as someone who strongly resembled the image on the Scarborough Rapist flyer, and women who were nearly victims managed to get a license plate number that would prove to match Bernardo’s car.

In a photograph taken by one of the senior officers investigating the death of Karla’s sister, the videotape of Tammy Homolka’s rape is sitting on Karla’s nightstand—no one checked to see what was on the tape, and it was not collected for evidentiary purposes. And neither Paul’s name nor Karla’s turned up on a routine name search in connection with Tammy Homolka’s death, because the police in Ontario never made a routine name search for “Bernardo” or “Homolka”.

Despite the fact that George W. Bush stood at Ground Zero declaring retribution for the attacks on 9/11, until recently, we still couldn’t find find Osama Bin Laden’s high cave hideout either.  But we dragged Saddam Hussein out of the exact hole in the ground he hunkered down in; we dragged him out matted-haired and wild-eyed for the cameras too, and there was a trial, of sorts, and a sentence that surprised no one. And in the same atmosphere of indifference that nullified Paul Bernardo’s claim he was guilty of multiple rape but not multiple murder, no one was much bothered when Saddam Hussein’s sentence was carried out a wee bit ahead of schedule. Saddam had nothing to do with the attacks on 9/11, but he was guilty of many, many other horrors and atrocities, so why split hairs…

But there is a reason to split hairs. It’s the same reason you don’t go to a restaurant, leave your wallet open on the table and trot off in search of the restroom. Most people are okay, and some will take your wallet if they happen to see the opportunity. But there’s a few who watch, and who wait for such opportunities, and I don’t mean to sound like Dick Cheney or George Bush. But Bush and Cheney weren’t completely wrong. We should all be on a heightened state of alert for those who do not have our interests at heart.

The problem is, of those who do not have your interests at heart, closer to you than men like Saddam Hussein are men who know it’s easier to exploit people’s fear than to appeal to their reason—men like Dick Cheney. And George Bush.

George W. Bush is not Saddam, and Bush didn’t invade Iran or Kuwait. But Bush invaded Iraq, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead—and thousands of Western troops are dead—because George Bush—and Tony Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister—went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality. Of the mass killings we perpetrated with our depleted uranium shells and our “bunker buster” bombs and our phosphorous, of the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our “victory”–our “mission accomplished” –who will be found guilty of it?

Likewise, convince the public that in evil intent, a man like Paul Bernardo is second only to a man like Saddam Hussein, and once he’s captured everyone is so relieved that less attention is paid to your own questionable behavior, such as routine searches you failed to conduct that would likely have put both Paul and Karla behind bars as early as 1990—and wholly unnecessary, tax-payer funded deals you made with the devil.

These days, in his always lit and always guarded 8′ x 4′ solitary isolation cell, 6-footer Paul Bernardo stars in another videotape sans Ms. Homolka: a security camera belonging to Correctional Services Canada now records his every twitch or sigh, and should you ask out loud how this formula for madness will, in any way, “correct” Paul Bernardo’s ability to choose the moral high road, you’re shushed before you can say “Abu Ghraib” in our post 9/11 world.

Professor Alan Young of Osgoode Hall wrote in his 1996 legal opinion that “the Crown acted imprudently to strike a deal because the Green Ribbon Task Force arrested Bernardo and charged him for the murders before they had a solid case. The deal struck was an act of desperation fueled by the press release of the police indicating that they had caught the murderer.”

That would be our old friend Inspector Bevan, there, who prematurely issued that press release. And Deal with the Devil architect Michael Code would ride in to his rescue—with child-killer Karla Homolka, in tow.

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.

But Bush 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.

In the Spring of 2005, Karla Homolka left prison, without a single parole restriction placed upon her by the Crown.

Most people believe there was only one “deal with the devil”, but in truth, a second pivotal decision by Michael Code and the Management Committee on May 18, 1995, essentially gave Homolka the blanket immunity she sought from the outset; that decision was made, not so coincidentally, on the eve of Paul Bernardo’s trial.

Among those who agree the plea-bargain arrangement with Homolka was a travesty of justice, many also still maintain that at the time, the “deal with the devil” was necessitated by the danger Paul Bernardo represented to the community at large. And I don’t doubt at all that Paul Bernardo needs to be precisely where he is, any more than I doubt Saddam Hussein committed acts for which he deserved to hang.

There are also 103, 383 Iraqi men, women and children, dead, all because of a war that need not have been waged. And once the blood of children has been spilled, we are all in far less of a position to say, if only, anymore.

In one country, missing videotapes were the pretext for an unconscionable plea-bargain deal, and in another, weapons of mass destruction, also “missing”, were the pretext for a war. And you may say whatever and who cares, as Saddam Hussein and Paul Bernardo are both very bad men.

But nations are founded on an idea of the truth; the integrity of those borders must also be maintained.

So you must ask yourself: are those whom you’ve empowered, men of justice—or men the justice system was constructed to detain.

3 responses to “The Political Reality of the Bernardo/Homolka Case

  1. Charlie Currie

    There is a provision in the Criminal Code section 504 and others that allow an individual citizen to lay a charge, or bring an information. I have been trying to rally support for this for some time, but if it isn’t the ego of lawyers who are embarrassed they haven’t brought it up or that they deal with the Crown on a daily basis or that there is an issue with a lay person coming up with the idea, I’m not sure. But I do know it is available. You seem to suggest there were charges left on the table or off depending on your point of reference. What charges do you feel weren’t included in the deal that Karla is actually guilty of. It is widely reported that she was charged with the death of her sister and I think not. I don’t remember that being included. It certainly could not have been a first degree murder charge, as it should have been, for causing a death in the course of a sexual assault. Of course, there is Jane Doe and that sexual assault.

  2. Excellent! I’ve read a number of blogs on Bernardo and Homolka, and yours is the one that stands out for its intelligence. Thank you for a very insightful, thought-provoking piece of writing!

  3. Typical delusional rant. Desperate strawman argument trying to defend what is obviously wrong. But to you the lives of young girls don’t matter, only you attempting to preserve your fragile ego is what matters to you. Quite pathetic really.

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