Globe and Mail

The new and self-improved Karla Homolka

MARGARET WENTE
The Globe and Mail
Saturday, November 6, 1999

It would be nice to know that Karla Homolka will roast slowly for eternity in the fires of Hell. Alas, even the Pope has now declared that Hell is only a state of mind. In the absence of Hell, Ms. Homolka is serving a much more contemporary penance: a few years of soft time at Joliette, where the rooms look like the students' dorm on any modern campus.

The curriculum is about the same, too. In order to graduate, the clients at Joliette are expected to take a full courseload of Women's Studies. The courses include Improving Your Inner Self, Self-Esteem, and Survivors of Abuse and Trauma. These courses are designed to put you completely in touch with your inner feelings and turn you into a stronger, more assertive person. You will shed your self-doubt and shame, and learn to speak up. You may feel really bad about yourself now. But, pretty soon, you'll feel really good.

Karla has taken them all.

In her lawsuit seeking to overrule her warden and gain a day pass off campus, Karla describes in five handwritten pages her story of personal growth and self-awareness. She dots her i's with big loopy circles, the way 13-year-old girls do. I am forbidden to quote from this remarkable document, on account of a publication ban issued to protect Ms. Homolka's privacy. So you will have to take my word that a sunnier self-evaluation you will never find. No shadows cloud her mind. She is untroubled by guilt. If Karla's endorsement is anything to go by, we should all sign up for therapy with the penal system.

The story of Karla Homolka shows how very diligent our criminal justice system is at trying to fix people's psychological problems -- and how utterly baffled it is by the problem of evil.

There is simply no place for evil in the enlightened, progressive, optimistic world we live in. The very idea of evil is an affront to modern values, just like the idea of vengeance. Unlike more primitive people, we do not take our monsters and draw and quarter them in the public square, or throw them into a dungeon to rot. We give them counselling. We aim for their rehabilitation and reintegration into society. We do not punish. We correct.

Back in 1995, the psychiatrists were baffled by Ms. Homolka. All agreed that Paul Bernardo was an incurable psychopath. But Karla, reported one, "remains something of a diagnostic mystery. Despite her ability to present herself very well, there is a moral vacuity in her which is difficult, if not impossible, to explain."

Nothing has changed. Concepts of remorse, repentance, shame, responsibility and atonement have no place in the universe of Karla. Perhaps she simply lacks the moral gene. If she had one, she would surely go mad. Or perhaps she merely has superior powers of self-delusion, and uses the handy language of psychobabble as her cloak against genuine self-knowledge.

For many years, Karla has identified herself as a battered woman, someone who had been rendered so helpless and passive by long-term abuse that she could not escape. Like other battered women, her only way out was to kill.

Of course, it wasn't her husband that Karla killed. She and Paul killed two teenage girls, after kidnapping, raping, torturing and videotaping them. They drugged and sexually assaulted Karla's own 15-year-old sister, who died after choking on her own vomit. Karla Homolka escaped with a plea-bargain of manslaughter in exchange for testifying against Paul.

Despite this awkwardness, the story of the helpless and abused girl touched two of the jurors deeply. After the trial, they wrote warm letters to her family expressing their faith in her ultimate recovery. Juror No. 10 was Erma Stultz, an international development consultant. One day, she wrote, she felt that Karla would do good by helping other women who had been trapped in abusive relationships. Karla is using those letters to persuade the court to let her out.

Karla is extremely aggrieved that the warden has turned her down. In an affidavit filed with the court, she complains, "It is impossible for me to know how she could put aside all the positive elements included in my file. . . . My application for escorted temporary absence is of crucial importance for me as it affects my liberty, including my right of parole and statutory release after eight years of imprisonment."

Tim Danson is the lawyer who represents the families of the girls Karla helped to torture and kill. He thinks her chance of getting the warden overruled is poor. Unfortunately, the chance that she will serve out every single day of her 12-year sentence is also not too good. Unless someone can prove she's still a threat to public safety, she'll be out in less than two years.

Till then, the industrious Ms. Homolka is determined to keep busy improving herself. In addition to all those courses, she has finished a BA in psychology. Next on her agenda is a degree in criminology. She would like to take a parenting course.

Karla will never go to Hell, even the Hell of her own mind. Instead, she will go to a halfway house, then on to realize her full potential in the outside world. No matter how hard we try, her very last day in jail will be July 5, 2005. She'll be 35 years old then. And she badly, badly wants to be a mother.


E-mail: mwente@globeandmail.ca

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