Toronto Star

November 19, 1999

Karla drops plea for liberty

Court fight looms over media access to killer's file

By Tracey Tyler
Toronto Star Legal Issues Reporter

Karla Homolka is giving up her court battle over the right to be released from prison.

The 29-year-old convicted killer is apparently withdrawing her application for a judicial review of a warden's decision to deny her escorted temporary absences from Quebec's Joliette prison.

The about-face comes in the midst of a legal challenge by The Star and three other news organizations to a publication ban on her file in the Federal Court of Canada.

It contains some 317 pages of documents including psychological assessments.

``I spoke to her lawyer and he said he's withdrawing it. He didn't indicate to me why, he just said, `Look, I'm withdrawing it,' '' said Mark Bantey, a Montreal lawyer representing the media organizations.

Bantey said yesterday, however, that he intends to proceed on Monday with a motion asking the court to remove the ban on the grounds that it violates freedom of expression.

Homolka's file will continue to remain a public court document even after her application is withdrawn, he said.

``Once a court file is created, it always exists.''

Bantey said he expects Homolka's lawyer, Pascal Lescarbeau, may argue the media has no right to intervene if the application has been withdrawn.

Lescarbeau was unavailable for comment yesterday and his secretary said he will not return The Star's calls.

Homolka was convicted of manslaughter in 1993 and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for her role in the sex slayings of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy and the drugging, rape and death of her sister Tammy, 15.

Her former husband, Paul Bernardo, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 and sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole for 25 years for the French and Mahaffy murders.

Although technically eligible for escorted temporary absences from the moment she entered prison, Homolka waited until halfway through her sentence to seek one for non-medical reasons. She has been released on escorted passes for medical purposes on five occasions.

This time, Homolka was seeking an escorted absence to allow her to develop a support network, break out of social isolation and get to know the city of Montreal. It would be better for her to be released from prison gradually rather than cold turkey with few conditions, she contends.

Going to court was an unusual step. Homolka can appeal any refusal by the warden to grant her such a pass to the deputy commissioner of corrections for the Quebec region.

If unsuccessful, she can appeal further to Commissioner Ole Ingstrup and theoretically to the Office of the Correctional Investigator, although its power to order the correctional service to do anything is limited.

Homolka argued in her court application, however, that the prison system is unlikely to grant her the passes because it is afraid of public backlash.

The passes are considered a necessary first step on the road to an eventual hearing before the National Parole Board. Homolka was entitled to apply for parole two years ago, after completing one-third of her sentence, but she didn't apply.

She will be eligible for statutory release in two years. That's a form of automatic release granted to most inmates still incarcerated two-thirds of the way through their sentence.

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