Residents of a Montreal suburb are on edge after learning convicted killer Karla Homolka has been living in their community for almost two years, and the lawyer representing the families of her victims says the news is “disturbing.”
“It’s upsetting,” said Tim Danson, lawyer for the families of Bernardo’s murder victims — 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French. “Whenever the names Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo are appearing in the media, it’s upsetting for my clients.
“They’d be happier just to go the rest of their life without ever hearing their names again.”
Global News has spoken with several parents in Châteauguay, a suburb southwest of Montreal, who were upset to learn a convicted killer was in their midst.
“I was shocked,” Ketly Fagan said. “I mean this is somebody that I’ve spoken to at the school and was very nice. I can’t put the two together. It doesn’t seem like it could be the same person but it is.”
In 1995, Homolka and her then husband Paul Bernardo were found guilty in the kidnapping, rape and murder of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.
In a plea deal with the Crown prosecutor, Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison in exchange for testifying against Bernardo. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Bernardo was given life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years and declared a dangerous offender
Homolka was released from prison in 2005 and now goes by the name of Leanne Bordelais. She has been living in Quebec, where she has remarried and had children.
News that Homolka was living in Châteauguay sent shock waves throughout the community and on social media as some questioned how a violent offender could be living in their midst, and stirred debate over whether she should have the right to an anonymous life.
Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, said she understands the community’s concerns, but adds Homolka should be allowed to reintegrate into society.
“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 former convicts.
“The question is whether or not she’ll get a chance to be reintegrated,” 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.”
Danson said it’s difficult to balance the anger directed at Homolka and her children who are “innocent” and “entitled to a normal life.”
“As a matter of law, she has done her 12 year sentence and she is a free person,” said Danson. “Knowing that she is in Quebec with three children and living a normal life presents some real problems.”
“For my clients, there she is: she is able to spend her life with her children; she can tuck them into bed; she can spend the time she can hold them. My clients can’t do that because she participated in their murder.”
He insists that police should make communities aware of Homolka’s whereabouts.
“Law enforcement has the discretion whether or not to warn the public at large if they really feel that there’s, you know, any kind of imminent danger,” he said. “If I was living there and my kids were in that situation, I would want to know. I would want to be able to make informed decisions over my own children’s well-being and safety. I believe that’s information that I am entitled to.”
A letter from the principal at Centennial Park Elementary School in Châteauguay that went home to parents on Tuesday tried to calm concerns that Homolka and her family are living in the community
“Our community is dealing with a difficult situation and many of you have questions and concerns,” principal Joanne Daviau wrote. “Please be assured that your children are safe when they are at school.”
“As you know, under Quebec law, all children have the right to privacy and an obligation to be in school,” Daviau wrote. “This is why I cannot comment any further or provide any personal information about any family.”
Global News attempted to seek comment from Homolka but was not successful.
Châteauguay police would not confirm if Homolka currently lives in the area.
“Its mission is to promote peace, order and quality of life of all of its citizens and visitors in the area, in respect with the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and liberties,” police said in a statement Tuesday.
*With files from Amanda Jelowicki, Caryn Lieberman and the Canadian Press