MONTREAL – Convicted killer Karla Homolka did her time and deserves a chance to start over, say advocates dedicated to helping offenders adjust to life after prison.
The mere fact Homolka had been living undetected for some time in small-town Quebec suggests the notorious criminal has successfully reintegrated into society, says Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies.
Some parents in Châteauguay have been expressing alarm since word spread that Homolka’s three children were attending school in the community, southwest of Montreal.
“If the only reason for concern is because there’s now some awareness of someone’s background, it strikes me as it may or may not be a cause for concern,” said Pate.
Parents and neighbours should not judge Homolka too harshly, said Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada.
“She got a sentence, she did her time and there’s no reason to believe that she has not been rehabilitated,” said Latimer, whose group assists convicts re-entering society.
“The question is whether or not she’ll get a chance to be reintegrated.”
After signing a plea deal implicating her ex-husband Paul Bernardo in the brutal sex slayings of Ontario teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison for manslaughter.
She was released in 2005 and assumed the name Leanne Bordelais, moving with her family to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, where she was eventually tracked down by a journalist.
In 2014, her sister Logan Valentini testified at Luka Rocco Magnotta‘s murder trial that Homolka had moved to Quebec.
Valentini, who changed her name from Lori Homolka in 1996, said at the time that Homolka had been living with her spouse, the brother of a Quebec lawyer who’d represented her, Sylvie Bordelais.
Reports of Homolka’s life in Châteauguay caught some parents by surprise and the New Frontiers School Board sent home a letter assuring them that their children at Centennial Park School were safe.
But Joe Wamback, founder of the Toronto-based Canadian Crime Victim Foundation, said he doesn’t believe Homolka can be rehabilitated.
“A normal person does not do this type of thing, does not commit this type of crime,” says Wamback.
“The psychology of a serial killer – the psychology of someone who has been involved in what she has been – has yet to even be scratched, the surface has yet to be even dented or understood; what motivates, what thrives and what creates these kinds of individuals.”
Wamback said he doesn’t believe statistics that suggest convicted killers are the least likely offenders to repeat their crimes.
“How many people do not get caught? How many unsolved murders? How many missing people do we have in Canada?” said Wamback.
But refusing offenders the chance to reintegrate in society is what really causes problems, said Latimer.
“If all employers are requiring criminal record checks and not hiring anybody who’s got a criminal past, you’re getting huge amounts of unemployment or under-employment among those who’ve committed crimes,” she said.
“There are increasing barriers of being able to lead a normal life, which doesn’t predispose people to pro-social behaviour. This failure to support the reintegration can cause a greater risk to communities than not.”
She finds it particularly troubling to see children of offenders suffer from social attitudes.
Latimer fears for the fate of Homolka’s kids.
“The impact will be that her children will be harried and isolated and not given an opportunity to be socially integrated in the way you would hope children would be,” she said.
Pate understands community concerns but urges parents to consider whether their children are in any real danger.
“Is it based on myths and stereotypes or is it based on real risk?” said Pate, noting sex crimes are most likely to be committed by a family member or acquaintance.
“If anything positive can come out of it maybe it’s the opportunity to have very real and positive, progressive discussions rather than focusing on making it more difficult for any of those children.”