The following editorial appeared in the Wingham Advance Times, and deals with the appropriateness of media coverage of particularly heinous crimes.
Those who aren't able to endure the uncensored truth should stick to Reader's Digest, and leave the rest of us to sift through the raw information; unpleasant though it may be.
Treating victims with dignity
March 15, 2012
In recent days, national media have provided extensive court coverage of two murder cases. In both, the alleged killers were healthy, able-bodied young adults, male and female teams like Bernardo and Homolka. In both, the victims were little girls – Aleksandra Firgin-Hewie was a tiny 13, and Tori Stafford only eight years old.
Most of us would like to think murderers are insane, driven to kill by demonic voices in their diseased minds, or so frustrated, angry or frightened they become insane for a time. We call them sick, because most of us know how far we would have to be pushed before we could intentionally take the life of another human being.
In the case of Bernardo and Homolka, and others who appear to have followed their pattern, there is no insanity in the conventional sense of the word. The killers were not hearing strange voices that compelled them to kill, nor did they act in the heat of anger. There was no lack of understanding what they did was wrong – they knew, but deliberately went ahead and hunted down innocent victims.
The ruthless brutality of the killers horrifies us, but even more shocking is their appalling lack of remorse. These killers willfully murdered children without a twinge of guilt. If they felt any regret, it was for themselves, that they got caught and sent to prison. If not insanity, then what? Only one word seems appropriate for their heinous crimes – evil.
Our criminal justice system has a threefold purpose – to rehabilitate wrong-doers, ensure they pay their debt to society, and protect the public.
In the case of fiends who kill little girls without remorse, one can argue there is no chance for rehabilitation. Karla Homolka appears to have started a new life for herself somewhere, and has managed to stay on the right side of the law, as far as we know. But does anyone believe she would not kill again if matched with the right partner? Does anyone believe Paul Bernardo would stay on the straight and narrow if he were eventually released from prison? Certainly not. Before he met Homolka, he was a notorious rapist.
As for paying their debt to society, how much is the life of an innocent little girl worth, not to mention her devastated family and community? This kind of debt can never be repaid.
For those who cannot be rehabilitated, and for whose crimes there is no appropriate punishment, the only remaining purpose of our justice system is to protect the public. Even in countries where criminals are treated leniently – many would claim Canada is one – there are legal provisions for keeping people behind bars indefinitely.
Dangerous offender designation is rare in this country, reserved for the likes of Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo, people so profoundly evil and dangerous they obviously can never be allowed out of prison.
It raises the question of how many children a fiend needs to stalk and torture to death before our courts take that extreme measure. Most parents, especially those with young children, would probably suggest baseball rules should not apply. No “three strikes” allowed – one innocent little victim is one too many.
It also raises the question of how much is too much when it comes to news coverage of the trials underway as of press time. While the public has a right to know the unvarnished truth about what happened, the public also has a right not to be bombarded with accounts that are unnecessarily graphic. There comes a point where some invisible line blurs and coverage begins to verge on pornography, aimed at titillating instead of informing. The line is difficult to define, but we know when it has been crossed.
When members of the media forget our own humanity and compassion, whether we are expressing an opinion, or striving for impartiality in news coverage, we lose something valuable. We lose our ability to treat victims of crime with the dignity they deserve. And when a young child is murdered, the circle of victims is wider than most of us can imagine, extending beyond immediate family to the community, acquaintances, teachers, emergency personnel, and even to the families of the accused killers.