One of the most “notorious women” in Canadian history is about to be released from prison sometime today. Along with her now ex husband Paul Bernardo Karla Homolka was arrested in connection with the rape murder of two young women. Although Mr. Bernardo will never see the outside of prison walls again(he was branded a dangerous offender which means he never has to be released)Ms. Holmolka received only a twelve years sentence through a plea bargain .
During the couples trial it became clear that although there was evidence to convict Mr. Bernardo on one of the crimes, it was not sufficient to see him put away indefinitely. The public outcry over the horrific nature of the crimes pressured the office of The Attorney General of Ontario to seek any means at their disposal to secure a dangerous offender conviction.
At the time the detectives investigating the crimes knew that there was a video recording in existence that Mr. Bernardo and Ms. Holmolka had made of themselves with the victims. As it was obviously not in his interest to reveal it’s whereabouts Mr. Bernardo was not about to tell where it was hidden.
Ms. Holmolka’s lawyers had already taken the approach in their defence that their client was as much a victim as the girls raped and murdered. She was portrayed as a innocent trapped in a nightmare world by an violent and dangerous man who would have killed her if she didn’t play along.
Therefore they were more then happy to be as accommodating as possible to the prosecutors, as long as there was something in it for them. Ms. Holmolka was given the opportunity to plead guilty to manslaughter which carries the maximum sentence of twelve years. She directed the police to a false ceiling in the bedroom she had shared with Mr. Bernardo.
The public outcry when the terms of her sentencing deal were announced, at least in the tabloid press, was nothing to the field day that followed the video’s first screening. The images from the video were interpreted by the press as showing Ms. Holmolka as a more then willing participant.
Aside from the usual baying for the return of the death penalty that seems to accompany almost any murder trial, the tabloids had the extra bone to chew on of Karla Holmolka getting off easy. Headlines called for the resignation of everyone from the chief of police who commanded the investigating force, the attorney general of Ontario, to the premier of the province. At the very least they demanded the plea bargain be destroyed. The response to the to the attorney general’s comment that it would be unethical to set that precedent, was who cares.
We will never know what was going on behind the smiling face of Ms. Holmolka on that video. Was she enjoying herself, or was it as she claims self preservation? Things we do know are that her family background and her psychological profile are consistent with that of a woman susceptible to manipulation and abuse.
This does not excuse her actions. She does not appear to ever have attempted to escape. But look at the statistics of how many women stay with the husband that abused them until it was too late and you wonder if she ever really had a choice or chance. Fear will make you do anything.
For the last year leading up to her release the tabloid pages have been filled with reminders of her crimes. We are constantly reminded of the tearful families of the victims and are shown the school portraits of the dead young women. No effort is being spared to whip up renewed hatred and re open the wounds of the family’s pain.
These same papers spent the years of her incarceration attempting to and succeeding on occasion, to snap illicit pictures of her and obtain any tidbit of salacious gossip they could pry or bribe from her guards. Pictures would appear, fuzzy and grainy, of her in the exercise yard, being escorted to a doctor: anything that would keep her in the public eye
There has never been any proof that Ms. Holmolka was more then an accomplice to these crimes. That Mr. Bernardo was the one who did the actual killings is unquestioned. Why then the furor and fascination surrounding her?
Obviously there is the nature of her involvement. She participated in the torture, rape, and filming of the two young women. But then there is the added titillation of her sex. No one seems to be able to get enough of that detail.
While never coming right out and saying it, the idea of same sex rape is continually implied. The constant reminders of the young victims’ innocence(I don’t know if they were ever referred directly to as virgin but it was sure hinted at) and Ms. Holmolka’s physical charms has been downright pornographic. One could almost see the drool falling from their lips as they mouthed their rancid rhetoric.
Given the tenor of the coverage one would thing that there have been no crimes so horrendous ever committed in Canada. But in the last five years one of the worst examples of mass murder was uncovered in Vancouver.
Over the course of a number of years prostitutes from the city had disappeared without a trace. After a long slow investigation, which gave many reason to believe that no one cared, the clues eventually led to the arrest of an are pig farmer. They still have not recovered all his victims who were buried beneath the mud and filth of his farm.
Unless the murderer decides to reveal details we will probably never know the exact number of his victims. Too many of them didn’t have anyone who would miss them. While the press have reported on the details of the crime, there is not the same tenor of horror to their stories.
No one has asked for impact statements from the family of these victims. No time has been spent dredging up their dreams and aspirations. Although these women were also raped, murdered and tortured they seem almost incidental to the fact that the crime was committed.
The calls for the return of the death penalty seem strangely muted in this instance. Those few people interviewed as friends seem only too aware of how they and the women killed are viewed by society. The defensive nature of their answers, the hopelessness expressed in the time before the case was solved, revealed that they knew no one really cared about them.
Even in the face of murder the scales of societal judgement never rest. If Karla Holmolka had been involved in the death of prostitutes would there have been such a hue and a cry over her plea bargain? Is it only because the victims in her case came from “decent homes and families” that the public and media care so much about what will happen to her outside of prison?
The judge who set the terms for her parole placed her under the usual restrictions for anyone who has been sentenced to a charge of murder. She must notify the police of her whereabouts at all times, she can not leave Montreal without giving thirty six hours notice, and is not allowed to associate with any people with criminal records. Due to the nature of her conviction she is also not allowed to associate with any person under the age of sixteen, her ex-husband, or the families of the women slain, and she must obtain counselling.
Any person in Canada who has received a sentence for murder is on parole for the rest of their life. A breach of any of her parole conditions could send her back to prison indefinitely. Given the amount of restrictions being placed upon her and the implied threat behind them, can anyone honestly see her as being a danger to whatever community she will be living in.
When she leaves prison she will be taken into the care of the Elizabeth Fry society who are responsible for trying to help women adjust to living outside of prison after years of incarceration. But what hope is there for her in this country.
She has been so successfully tarred and feathered in the press that she will never be able to lead a life resembling anything close to normal. Can she be expected to eventually get a job? Has she been released from a physical prison only to be sentenced to a live imprisoned by poverty?
Most people probably couldn’t be bothered sparing her a moments pity. Believing that any punishment she continues to receive is only fitting, they are content to let her suffer on in perpetuity. But surely they don’t want her to go back to a life of crime? Wouldn’t they rather her try and atone for her previous wrongs by putting something back into the society at large?
Twelve years may not seem like a long time, but one day can be an eternity in a federal penitentiary. For those who seem to mete out justice in terms of suffering, fear not. Karla Holmolka has had to live with herself for twelve years of prison, and will continue to do so for the rest of her life.
Even if she is the cold hearted murderess that the press has painted her as, the attempt has to be made to heal her. Only if she shows herself incapable of recovery should we wash our hands and assign her to the pits of hell. Otherwise we end up becoming those we claim to despise.
Karla Holmolka was convicted of a heinous crime and whether or not we agree with the length of her sentence it is now done. As is right she will never be free from the implications of that for the rest of her life. The terms of her parole restrict her life as surely as a prison sentence and she has to live with herself. Continued harassment and public reviling in the press has little to do with justice and much to do with exploitation
The families of the two murdered girls will not get their daughters back no matter what anybody does or says. Do they really need one of the people responsible for their deaths being elevated to some sort of twisted celebrity status? Seeing Ms. Holmolka’s picture on the front page of the papers is a daily reminder of their loss.
The best justice that can be served is to sentence Karla Holmolka to obscurity. If she is who the press says she is, attention seeking and vain, this will punish her the most. If she isn’t, then maybe, just maybe the principles involved in this sordid piece of history can start to pick up the pieces of their lives again.
There are enough notorious people in the world that we are not going to miss one more or less.