BERNARDO DENIED PAROLE AFTER PLEA
‘Everyone is scared but there is no reason’
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.
I DIDN’T GO OUT WITH THE INTENT TO HURT THEM.
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.