An un-payable debt?

Added: Wed, 06/21/2017 - 10:49pm
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Canadians were outraged after news reports revealed that convicted serial killer Karla Homolka had been volunteering at her children's school in Montreal. Few are unaware of the woman's history: in the early 1990's, she and her former husband Paul Bernardo (also known as the Scarborough Rapist) raped and murdered two schoolgirls and were involved in the rape and death of Homolka's younger sister.    
The reports also came up in Parliament on May 31 when some politicians were asked to comment on the situation. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair's statements received the most media attention after he brought up the issue of
forgiveness. 
“Everybody is going to have to take their own stock of that and make sure, first and
foremost, the security of their kids is taken care of. Beyond that, it really becomes a question of forgiveness. I guess that’s part of this discussion and whether or not someone who’s paid their debt and if you’re ensuring the safety of the kids, beyond our revulsion at the horror of the crime, is there any way for atonement and forgiveness?,” he said.
According to reports, the school admitted to knowing of Homolka's background, but allowed her to volunteer despite that because she only did so occasionally and was not left alone with children. In Quebec, school boards decide when to conduct background checks on volunteers. In many provinces, including Quebec, it is against the law to discriminate against a person based on a criminal record if the offence is unrelated to the employment. Homolka's crimes didn't
occur in a school setting, but it did involve school-aged girls, so a grey area exists. The school has since changed their policy and banned Homolka from volunteering.
Is it a question of time served? Criminologists have repeatedly stressed how the prison system does not work; it aggravates the causes of crime by leaving prisoners “virtually destitute, on the road back to prison” rather than helping them with employment and social inclusion (“Prison Doesn't Work, Philosophy Now, June/July 2017). There is no proof that incarceration prevents crime or rehabilitates offenders. 
However, the prison system is well-designed for one thing: isolating convicted dangerous offenders from the public. Bernardo was sentenced to life (25 years) without parole and declared a dangerous offender, meaning he will likely spend the rest of his life behind bars. Claiming she was manipulated and coerced, Homolka took a plea deal to testify against Bernardo and was given a 12 year sentence for manslaughter. Videotapes later revealed she was very much a willing participant. Without this “deal with the devil”, Homolka would likely have been deemed a dangerous offender and received a life sentence as well.
In the end, will there ever be room for forgiveness in this case? Homolka has
consistently denied her equal role in the crimes and has blamed any involvement on her youth, feeling powerless and under Bernardo's influence, and low self-confidence. Is it possible to forgive someone who denies full accountability for their actions? Are some actions too heinous to excuse? Does the population, and especially the victims' families, merit a non-expiring hall pass for their continued outrage and stigmatization in this instance?
Morally, are there some debts to society that can never possibly be paid?

Allyson BEAUREGARD
Rédacteur / Managing Editor