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French, Mahaffy families feel 'let down'

From: National Post
Date: 7/14/99
Time: 11:01:12 PM


Wednesday, July 14, 1999

French, Mahaffy families feel 'let down' Parents not told of Homolka's four trips outside prison

Richard Foot National Post

The families of murdered teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy are demanding to know from Corrections Canada why they weren't told that Karla Homolka, Canada's most notorious female killer, has left her Quebec prison four times since 1995 to visit a doctor.

Homolka, 29, is halfway through a 12-year sentence for her role in the murders of the two St. Catharines, Ont., teens. Her husband, Paul Bernardo, is serving a life sentence for the same murders. Homolka is eligible for early release in 2001, but since her imprisonment she has already been out of jail a total of five times for medical visits -- each time shackled and escorted by one or more prison guards.

The place and purpose of Homolka's medical visits are confidential. Even her guards don't know the reason for her trips, and may not be allowed to be present during her examination by a doctor.

But Tim Danson, the families' lawyer, says the government gave his clients a written agreement in 1995 that they would at least be notified any time Homolka or Bernardo were let out of jail, on trips permitted by the prison warden.

Mr. Danson says the families were given that assurance in August, 1995, by the commissioner of Corrections Canada, who told them at the time about Homolka's first outside medical trip.

"The deal was that the families, through me, would be informed of all developments relating to Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo," says Mr. Danson. "If she's getting escorted passes we want to know that it has happened and we want to know that it was a good reason, and not so she could go to a party."

A more critical reason for staying informed is to avoid any chance of an encounter between Homolka and the French or Mahaffy parents.

"The bigger issue is where this leads," says Mr. Danson. "If they choose not to keep us informed, is she going to get an unescorted pass one day and my clients are going to run into her on the street -- something that would have an impact on them that would be debilitating and devastating. Given their vulnerability and how they've been beaten up by the justice system over the years, that there really is a level of comfort of knowing that there's not going to be surprises."

Mr. Danson says while other Canadians might be angry that Homolka had been allowed out of prison for medical visits, his clients aren't concerned about that. They don't consider Homolka's medical needs their business. But the families were disappointed this week, he says, when Mr. Danson was forced to learn from a Toronto reporter that further trips had been made.

Corrections Canada officials believe they are upholding their side of the agreement. Linda Mariotti, a prison spokeswoman, says officials wrote to the French and Mahaffy families in 1996 explaining that they would not be notified about temporary, escorted trips out of prison, something she says the families acknowledged at the time in a letter.

Donna French and Debbie Mahaffy, the victims' mothers, could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Mr. Danson says the parents do need to be kept informed. He says they feel "let down again" by the system.

Last changed: August 25, 1999