As far as most rational people are concerned, the world has seen and heard more than enough of murderer Paul Bernardo. Along with the horrific news accounts of his crimes, there have been books, movies, and reams of armchair analysis and comments.
Except for practitioners and students of law, psychology, and perhaps sociology, there’s no need to give this individual more airtime. Yet an Ontario Superior Court Justice, David McCombs, has decided to do just that.
On June 7, 2007, Bernardo was interviewed in a Kingston jail. He was asked about his involvement in the disappearance of Elizabeth Bain, a University of Toronto student who went missing in 1990. Bernardo has long been suspected of involvement, and in spite of opposition from the Crown, McCombs recently gave permission to media outlets to broadcast that interview on television and the Internet.
As the CBC reports, part of McCombs’s decision hinged on the fact that ?open justice and public scrutiny are core values in our justice system . . . unless the press has access to court information and exhibits they are unable to provide the information to the public.?
But why, exactly, does the public need to know? The implication is that public access creates an environment where justice is both done and seen to be done, and that this public scrutiny helps make for a justice system that is accountable and equitable. In the larger picture, this contributes to the public good.
Yet in this case, releasing the interview for general consumption not only fails to provide public merit, it does the public, and our justice system, more harm than good.
First, Bernardo is not on trial for this crime. It’s not a situation where providing detailed transcripts will ensure a fair trial for an accused?or the release of someone falsely convicted. Although the interview may have helped win the recent acquittal of Robert Baltovich, Bain’s former boyfriend who was convicted of second-degree murder in her death, publicly airing it would not (and should not) have affected that decision by the courts.
Neither would airing the video protect the public’s safety. If a suspected criminal is still at large, releasing photos or video of pertinent details allows the public to take precautions; to be aware of enough details to avoid a known danger. But Bernardo has been declared a dangerous offender, meaning he will serve the rest of his life in prison.
And the most worrisome aspect of releasing the video is the contribution it makes to the voyeuristic interest in crime?and the accompanying sense that the pain of victims, their families, and society at large is reduced to nothing more than the diversion of an Internet clip.
Would the tape of such an interview be useful for those studying criminal psychology or law? Definitely. But when it comes to gawking at the ramblings of convicted serial killers for no useful purpose?well, enough said.