‘Every­one is scared but there is no rea­son’

Calgary Herald - - NP - Joseph Brean in Bath, Ont.

As he made his first pitch for pa­role after 25 years in prison for some of the most hor­rific crimes in Cana­dian his­tory, Paul Bernardo was ea­ger, agree­able, strangely docile and un­fo­cused.

He claimed to have dis­cov­ered and con­fronted the psy­cho­log­i­cal rea­sons for his sadis­tic sex­ual atroc­i­ties, in­clud­ing a series of rapes and the mur­ders of two teenage girls.

He said they stemmed from low self-es­teem, mis­guided cop­ing mech­a­nisms, “cog­ni­tive dis­tor­tions” and the dis­in­hibitory ef­fects of stress and al­co­hol.

“At the time of my crimes, I was ev­ery­thing they said I was,” he said. “It hurts. Be­cause I did hor­ri­ble things.”

Slouch­ing in a chair at On­tario’s Mill­haven In­sti­tu­tion be­fore two Pa­role Board of Canada mem­bers, wear­ing a blue crew-neck T-shirt over a slight paunch with un­kempt light brown hair, his voice was soft and breathy, with an oc­ca­sional slight repet­i­tive stut­ter.

Bernardo, 54, was quick to an­swer ques­tions and spoke at length, but strayed from the main top­ics, which fo­cused on his life in prison and his ef­forts at re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. His an­swers were thick with psy­cho­log­i­cal jargon, fo­cused on gen­eral be­havioural pat­terns and the­o­ries rather than the ex­treme spe­cific de­tails of his in­ner life and his view of his crimes. The lead board mem­ber, Suzanne Poirier, sug­gested his un­der­stand­ing of him­self seemed a bit “aca­demic.” He was not ob­vi­ously eva­sive, but his an­swers rarely seemed to sat­isfy the ques­tion. Strangely, he of­ten nod­ded along with ques­tions, al­most en­cour­ag­ingly.

For the pa­role board, the ques­tion of whether to let Bernardo out of prison comes down to one sim­ple con­sid­er­a­tion — whether he presents an “un­due risk” to so­ci­ety. After a day-long hear­ing, at which the moth­ers of his mur­der vic­tims Leslie Ma­haffy and Kris­ten French, and one rape vic­tim, gave im­pas­sioned state­ments, the board’s de­ci­sion was ex­actly what was widely ex­pected — not just be­cause first-time ap­pli­cants usu­ally fail, but be­cause there has hardly ever been an ap­pli­cant as no­to­ri­ous and re­viled as this.

Bernardo’s re­quest for day or full pa­role was de­nied after the briefest of de­lib­er­a­tions. Let­ting him go, even though by law he will be sub­ject to cor­rec­tional su­per­vi­sion for the re­main­der of his life, would be un­duly risky, the board found. He can be con­sid­ered again in two years. He has been el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for day pa­role since 2015, and for full pa­role since his min­i­mum 25-year in­car­cer­a­tion ex­pired this year.

He claimed to have em­pa­thy for his vic­tims now, but at the time of his crimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he was in his 20s, he was more con­cerned about his own dis­tress, and his thought that ex­ert­ing con­trol over vic­tims would re­store his self-es­teem.

He said he did not en­joy his crimes, but rather that he used his at­tacks to feel bet­ter about him­self, to ease his pain rather than in­crease his plea­sure.

“I didn’t con­sider their (his vic­tims’) emo­tions as much as, ob­vi­ously, I should have,” he said. “I of­fended to raise my self-es­teem be­cause when it was low, I felt ter­ri­ble … I didn’t go out with the in­tent to hurt them, I did it for my­self.”

“Mr. Bernardo, please,” said Poirier in in­cred­u­lous ex­as­per­a­tion. She then de­scribed the Scar­bor­ough rapes for which he was con­victed, in which young women were grabbed at bus stop­san­dra­pedinthe­bushes. But Bernardo stuck to his story that he did not set out to in­flict pain.

“But if they didn’t do what I wanted them to do, then I pun­ished them,” he said. This was to ease his own pain, with a “dis­re­gard” for theirs.

He said his prob­lems with self-es­teem are bet­ter now that he al­lows him­self to be vul­ner­a­ble. “I’m a very flawed per­son,” he said.

Shock­ingly, he iden­ti­fied his fail­ure to save the life of Tammy Ho­molka — he was a life­guard, after all — as a key mo­ment in the es­ca­la­tion of his be­hav­iour, for the guilt it caused him. He said it led to two sui­cide at­tempts.

“I failed the Ho­molkas,” he said. “I failed Karla.”

Bernardo was con­victed of man­slaugh­ter in Tammy’s death, which was part of a plot in which his ex-wife Karla Ho­molka drugged her sis­ter un­con­scious so Bernardo could rape her. Karla pleaded guilty to man­slaugh­ter in Tammy’s death, and also those of French and Ma­haffy, and has served the en­tirety of her con­tro­ver­sial 12-year sen­tence. She now lives in Mon­treal.

Poirier took him to many con­tra­dic­tions and out­ra­geous state­ments in his lengthy file, such as his re- sent­ment of his vic­tims and their fam­i­lies for de­mand­ing his life­long in­car­cer­a­tion. He ex­plained some of this by say­ing that, after many years in soli­tary con­fine­ment, “I be­camede­fen­sive.Ihad­guards up.”

“When I did my of­fend­ing, I had jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for why I of­fended,” he said. Over time, through ther­apy, he said he has been able to “knock down” those jus­ti­fi­ca­tions to see his be­hav­iour for what it was. “It hits you hard on an emo­tional level.”

“It dev­as­tates me what I did in the past. I cry all the time,” he said. “What I did was so dread­ful.”

Asked why it hurts to cry, he said, “It hurts. Be­cause I did hor­ri­ble things.” He was not ac­tu­ally cry­ing.

“Ev­ery day I wake up and I treat peo­ple well. I don’t dis­as­so­ci­ate what I did,” he said. He said over and over again that he cries a lot. He said he is ashamed. Fre­quently, he seemed to be ap­proach­ing some­thing like re­morse, but then would drop an in­con­gru­ous com­ment such as: “My big­gest prob­lem is com­mu­ni­ca­tions skills.”

He said his child­hood was made dif­fi­cult be­cause his tongue was at­tached to the floor of his mouth and he needed a mi­nor op­er­a­tion, then speech ther­apy.

“This is why I of­fended in the first place. It was al­ways hard to ex­press what I was feel­ing,” he said. “I al­ways felt in­ad­e­quate.”

He gave de­tails of a 2014 ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship, which caused his psy­chol­o­gist con­cern be­cause it co­in­cided with in­creased fan­tasies about dom­i­nant sex acts and a se­ri­ous in­crease in mas­tur­ba­tion.


Bernardo was im­pas­sive as the day be­gan with vic­tim im­pact state­ments. Donna French said it was “un­think­able” her daugh­ter’s mur­der, which came chrono­log­i­cally sec­ond, should not add a sec­ond to Bernardo’s min­i­mum sen­tence. Both French and Deb­bie Ma­haffy quoted his trial judge Patrick LeSage telling Bernardo he re­quires jail, “and in my view for the rest of your nat­u­ral life.”

Bernardo’s pro­posal was for a con­di­tional re­lease to a nearby fa­cil­ity that could mon­i­tor in­creased free­doms. With help from lawyer Fer­gus O’Con­nor, he said he imag­ines be­ing moved to a lower se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity and be­ing granted tem­po­rary ab­sences.

“No one’s ask­ing to be let out the door to­day,” Bernardo said. “Ev­ery­body’s scared. There’s no rea­son to be scared, not from me.”

His re­port to the pa­role board in­di­cates he has shown “pos­i­tive in­sti­tu­tional con­duct,” notwith­stand­ing the home­made weapon found in his cell this year, for which a crim­i­nal charge was dropped. He has done three treat­ment cour­ses, in­clud­ing for sex of­fend­ers, but shown “min­i­mal gains.” He is re­garded as hav­ing a high risk for in­ti­mate part­ner vi­o­lence, and mod­er­ate risk for re­cidi­vism.


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