Do killers locked in Canadian prisons marry, get conjugal visits with their new wives and father children, while they remain behind bars? Yes, yes, and yes. In fact, it happens regularly. But what about a sadistic serial rapist and killer like Paul Bernardo (inset), who has been in prison since November 1995, after he was convicted of murdering two teenage girls in Ontario, Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy? Well, maybe. The questions are relevant, given news (broken in a story by Sunmedia) that Bernardo has struck up a romantic relationship with a 30-year-old woman from London, Ontario, who wants to marry the man considered one of the most depraved serial killers caught in Canada in the last half century. I think Bernardo may be working a scheme with this relationship.
Through my late teens and early 20s – in late 70s and 80s – heavy-duty plastic milk crates had one notable use, as containers/carriers for long-play, 33 rpm records. Albums fit perfectly into the rugged, square containers that were designed to transport jugs and plastic bags of milk and other products from dairies to retailers and restaurants. It turns out the crates have an entirely unexpected use inside a federal penitentiary, as the raw material for fabrication of a sturdy and lethal prison shank. I dug out of my personal archive a photo I snapped of one of these marvels of convict engineering (inset, in full after jump), after seeing a recent decision of a Federal Court judge who tossed out the internal prison conviction of an Ontario inmate after a five-inch long Fibreglas knife was found inside the convict’s cell.
Five years ago today, around 10 a.m. on June 30, 2009, Brent White, a constable with the municipal police department in Kingston, Ontario, received a dispatch instructing him to go to Kingston Mills, a scenic and secluded spot on the northern edge of the city’s built-up area. At Kingston Mills, a series of ancient locks lifted boats from the level of Lake Ontario up to the level of the Cataraqui River. At one of the locks, a submerged car was spotted that morning by lock worker John Bruce. He had called police, beginning a chain of events that would reveal a horrifying quadruple homicide, Canada’s worst mass honour killing, orchestrated by Afghan immigrant Mohammad Shafia (inset). [Read more...]
What happens to Justin Bourque (inset) if he is convicted of murdering three RCMP officers and wounding two others in New Brunswick? Will the 24 year old spend decades penned in a small concrete box, languishing there until he dies of old age? Maybe not. Bourque, who faces three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder in a shooting rampage in Moncton, N.B., on June 4, 2014, could be a good candidate for parole, some day, given the bits and pieces of information that are now available.
Contaminants that cause cancer, neurological impairment and a host of other ailments have been found in soil around a closed federal prison in Kingston, Ontario at concentrations as high as 93 times federal guidelines, secret documents reveal. Copies of the documents, two briefing notes prepared by Corrections Canada for Public Safety Minster Steven Blaney, were obtained by Cancrime (read them in full after the jump). One briefing note, dated January 29, 2014, reported that “widespread soil contamination” was found around 179-year-old Kingston Penitentiary, which ceased to operate as a prison in September 2013. The note explains that lead, arsenic and hexavalent chromium – substances described in the note as “hazardous to human health” – were found “in exceedance of Federal and Provincial guidelines.” Corrections Canada, which will conduct an open house on the issue today (April 25) in Kingston, has revealed publicly only that areas around the prison show “preliminary evidence of possible soil contamination.” Information posted online at a website established by Corrections – the agency that manages the federal prison system – omits many details contained in the briefing notes, notably that the contaminants were found at levels far in excess of federal guidelines.
Missed me on TVO’s program The Agenda with Steve Paiken on February 26? You can watch the entire program online (embedded after the jump). The segment, a panel discussion on honour killings, featured Deeyah Khan (inset), whose film about the honour killing in 2006 of Banaz Mahmod in England won the 2013 Emmy Award for best International Documentary. The panel also featured activist and educator Aruna Papp, a South Asian immigrant to Canada who wrote a book about her struggle against the oppressive honour and shame code to which her family subscribed, and Hafsa Lodi a freelance journalist based in London, England and Dubai, who is a former Ryerson University (Toronto) student who wrote a column about media coverage of honour killings in Canada, particularly the Shafia case.
I’m not surprised that Kingston criminal lawyer David Crowe (inset) has sued convicted mass honour killer Mohammad Shafia. Crowe claims in a civil lawsuit that Shafia agreed to pay the trial legal bill of his accomplice/killer/wife Tooba and has now reneged on final payment. Crowe represented Tooba during the trial. Sources tell me that Crowe has been complaining for more than a year that he was never paid in full for his work on the trial. Maclean’s reporter Michael Friscolanti has this excellent story about the legal action. I’m not surprised, given what many people told me after I began covering the case in 2009 – that Shafia was a wealthy but incredibly stingy man who worshipped money. My book on the case, Without Honour, includes revelations you won’t find elsewhere about the depths of millionaire Shafia’s tightfistedness – such as his insistence in staying in cheap hotels and eating at discount restaurants during a lengthy business trip to China. One lawyer I spoke to who had dealings with Shafia noted that: “It’s one thing to have lots of money, but parting with it is another matter.”
James Giff (inset), an imprisoned killer who raped and stabbed a 16-year-old girl, leaving her dying in a snowbank, has been granted permission to leave prison with no supervision. Giff, who was diagnosed as a sadist – someone who derives sexual pleasure from inflicting pain – was granted unescorted passes that will permit him to leave prison for short periods of time. The decision was made at a parole hearing held in Quebec, where Giff is serving his life sentence. He has been in prison since 1985, when he killed Heather Fraser, a popular high school student in Smiths Falls, a small community in eastern Ontario.
So maybe it’s an exaggeration to say that I learned to love the killers in my life. I certainly learned how to tolerate them, to interrogate them and to expose them, in some cases. It’s part of the story you’ll hear if you pop by the John Dutton Theatre at the main branch of the Calgary Public Library (616 Macleod Trail S.E., Calgary) this Saturday (February 1) where I’ll be speaking about life as a writer of true crime stories – which includes many tales of murder. My talk, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m., is one of six on Saturday that is part of the Writer’s Weekend. All of the sessions are free, though you should register at the library’s website. If you attend, I’ll explain the remarkable backstory of that charming fellow (inset), one of the many strange characters I’ve met during a crime-writing career of 20+ years.
I was thrilled today to learn that Without Honour, my book about the 2009 Shafia honour killings, has been longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction (formerly the Charles Taylor Prize). This prestigious award is given annually to a book that “combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception.” It’s an honour to earn a place on a roster of gifted writers – and award events often feature great parties – though I’ll have to get on the shortlist for that. The shortlist will be announced January 15 and the winner revealed March 10. It’s humbling to see that I’m in the company of formidable literary figures, including past Taylor nominees such as personal idol Stevie Cameron, the legendary investigative journalist who was on the Taylor shortlist in 2011 for On the Farm, her definitive account of the Pickton serial murder case.