Civil Disobedience in Modern Society: Media Ban on the Trial of Karla Homolka

Civil Disobedience in Modern Society: Media Ban on the Trial of Karla Homolka

Civil disobedience is a nonviolent form of protest defying the law for moral and ethical reasons, in an attempt to change or revise the law. The case of the media ban on Karla Homolka’s trial created much of uproar among society nation wide. Karla Homolka was accused of abduction, torture, rape, and manslaughter in the deaths of two St. Catherine’s, Ontario teenagers, one of these teenagers being her very own sister. As media coverage spread rapidly across the nation, Judge Frances Kovacs placed a media ban on the trial, as he believed it violated Homolka’s rights to equality and would affect the jury’s final decision. Citizens were outraged over the issue of censorship vs. free speech. Why Kovacs would not allow any foreign media in the courtroom, the Publication Ban, and the Public’s outrage and protests on the release of Karla Homolka all reflect upon civil disobedience and how society as well as the court systems dealt with the matter. Although Kovacs did not want to suppress Homolka from her rights, the public felt the alleged crime was such a terrible and cruel incident, how could the court system be so understanding.

As more news stations broadcasted live information based on serial rapist, Karla Homolka, Judge Frances Kovacs placed a time-limited ban on the media details of Homolka’s trial until the trial was officially over. Kovacs stated, “The considerations for a fair trial outweigh the right to freedom of the press in these exceptional circumstances.” (Leslie, 12) He knew that the national publicity surrounding the case would jeopardize the selection of an unbiased jury for Paul Bernardo’s future trial and therefore would act impartial towards the families of the victims. However, Bernardo and his lawyers attempted to petition against the ban, as they felt it would contribute to a more detrimental trial. They thought the public had the right to know what type of plea bargain went on between Homolka and the Court. Kovacs allowed Canadian media in the courtroom, the families of the victims accused, Counsel for Bernardo, and the Court’s Law Clerk. Kovacs dismissed foreign press, as well as prohibiting the media to publish any details of the deaths of the victims and could not reveal any information to the foreign press. Four dominate media outlets throughout this trial, who argued that Kovacs was violating Bernardo’s Charter or Rights and Freedoms by ignoring his petition to the ban, included the Toronto Star Newspapers, Thomson Newspapers Co, the Toronto Sun, and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Lawyers defending the public defense explained that the public did have a right to know the details about Homolka’s manslaughter charge and sentence, and whether Homolka would pose as a threat to society upon her release. Kovacs admitted in his ruling that it would be difficult to watch over the American coverage due to the many changes from the many TV channels and radio stations.

In early November, McGill University was the first university to suspend the newsgroup as it was alarmed that they could be viewed as disturbing information about the trial in violation of the Kovacs ban. One month later, 15 other Canadian Universities, also discontinued the newsgroup from the National Capital Free Net in Ottawa. The Ontario Attorney General Marion Boyd blamed this media of seeking to profit from the dramatic case. However, even after shutting these newsgroups down, there were still many ways for the public to gain access to the newsgroup and obtain more information about the trial. Throughout this trial, Homolka denied inflicting death but she was involved in the abductions and assaults, as well as the manslaughter accusations. She drugged the innocent victims, sexually assaulted and committed death by aspiration when her sister, Tammy, vomited. Later on during the trial, videotapes revealed the truth of what Homolka and Bernardo actually did to the teenage girls. There was however speculation by the publicity ban on the plea bargain, which stood until Bernardo’s trial, outraging the public. Homolka, being female, was held less guilty and was denied women’s equality and moral independence. The Jury saw a beautiful bride, loyal daughter, and supportive wife, who was also a victim of physical abuse, allowing them to neglect the importance of the case and focus on Homolka’s personal life. Homolka was a vulnerable woman for prosecution for first-degree murder, however her evidence had been bought by police in an attempt for them to gain additional information about Bernardo. The majority of criminal cases in Canada are settled by a guilty plea, usually involving a sentence bargain as well as a charge bargain. Having Homolka serve only a 12 year sentence as apposed to life in prison, the public was extremely outraged, enticing them to protest against this.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that everyone has the right to thought, belief, opinion, and expression, which includes freedom of press. The Court order allowed the publication only if a conviction was recorded. The Crown applied for the ban on July 5, 1993, by Judge Francis Kovacs. Homolka supported the ban, however Bernardo felt he was being prejudice by the ban since Homolka was portraying herself as his victim. Bernardo’s lawyers argued that rumors were doing more damage to the future trial process than the actual publication. American journalists cited and took very detailed notes of Homolka’s testimony, which were eventually widely spread through electronic devices making this information available to any with Internet access. Some rumors were so extreme that the details of the case where actually from other serial killers adding to Homolka and Bernardo’s case. As the trial became more aware to other nations, New York Times, and other American newspapers were also reporting on Homolka’s trial, but distributors in Ontario did not accept these. The American publications were banned by courts to ensure Paul Bernardo recieved an unbiased jury when faces charges of first degree murder and sex offences. A Constitutional Right to freedom of expression and open and accountable trials were not needed and were unjust to enforce Homolka’s Trial Publication Ban, since these criminals were major offenders, equity is extremely important in Canada, as it defines our Constitution as equal treatment before and under the law. Equity in criminal sentencing, means that sentences to the severity of the crime and the involvement of the offender will depend on the amount of media coverage, never-the-less media exposure is in fact a right.

Homolka’s attorneys wanted to ban the media from reporting her location in order to protect her privacy and safety, after her release as she received many threats. The Quebec judge turned down Homolka’s request for an injunction that would not allow the media from reporting on certain details about her life after her release from prison. Her lawyers also requested for a special ban that would prevent reporters from covering her release for 10 days, believing that the media could be harmful to Homolka. However, the Quebec Judge argued that by granting this ban, it would impair the freedom of the press. The public has a right to know Homolka’s location due to the severity of her crimes and since another court earlier ruled that she could still be dangerous. The public, now aware of what had been going on, had a large desire to kill her, although no action was actually taken. The public was outraged when Ontario’s attorney general’s office created a deal with Homolka, agreeing to a lighter sentence for her role in the killings if she agreed to testify against her ex-husband Paul Bernardo.

After serving 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of three teenage girls, Homolka was released. Authorities stated that Homolka was seen leaving the facility with no media following her. She planned to testify against her husband, Paul Bernardo, as a favor to the police and lawyers in return, she received a less harsh sentence. However, this was before the police and lawyers knew that there were videotapes of the crimes they both committed, showing Homolka as a willing participate. She made a pact with Ontario prosecutors in 1993, which the public and media sources will always and forever know it as the “deal with the devil.” The majority of the public believes that Homolka got off easy with the murder and rapes. The Prosecutors needed her testimony as they felt that Bernardo was more of a threat to society than Homolka, forcing them to put Bernardo away for life. Homolka was able to testify with more evidence against her husband since he was physically abusive to her as well. She agreed to testify against him in return for pleas to her two counts of manslaughter and 2 concurrent 12-year sentences. The public was outraged by this deal, as she did not serve her full punishment and justice, as she tortured and raped innocent teenage girls. After watching the horrific tapes of the teenage girls’ raping, courts decided to turn it off as it was too painful for family members to watch, but the courts never actually saw how Homolka was the one who eagerly participated in these forms of tortures. The public was livid that Homolka was being protected by the media ban after she killed and tortured the 3 teenagers. The public questioned and protested how the court gave her remorse when she had none when victimizing the innocent girls. In the summer of 2005, Homolka was released with a number of conditions, as she still was a threat to society. These conditions included: telling police where she was living and if she would be away from her home for more than 48 hours, she was not allowed to have any contact with Paul Bernardo, the families of her victims or any violent criminals, was not allowed to be in the presence of children under 16 or consume drugs (with the exception of medication), had to continue therapy and counseling and provide police with a DNA sample. Homolka fought these restrictions through the court, where she won, forcing the Quebec Superior Court Judge James Brunton to remove all conditions that were placed on her. As a result of this, there are now no legal ways to keep tabs on her even with the public media. The media and courts played a major role in this case, however, Homolka knowingly committed all of these crimes and should be the one to be punished not the court or judge. Canadians protested that these families were suffering because of her and her husband, and now she is able to walk the streets freely. ‘"As far as I know, nothing has been done to safeguard my security after my release from prison, and the thought of being relentlessly pursued, hunted down and followed when I won't have any protection makes me fear for my life," she wrote.’ (3, Toronto Star) The plea bargain agreement and Ontario's profit stripping laws' found in the Prohibiting Profiting From Recounting Crimes Act allowed Homolka to still be able to obtain all her rights as a Canadian Citizen, however the public does not feel she is entitled to any of her rights as she caused such turmoil and committed such immoral crimes. The Court had a fundamental right to protect Homolka, however, the public had every right to protest her early release, as they were not causing bodily harm to her, just stating their opinion. Although the public threatened Homokla, they never physically related to the circumstances, showing civil disobedience by acting in a non-violent form of protest and anger for moral and ethical reasons, wanting to ensure that the law would protect them.

Although Karla Homolka committed an appalling crime, along with her husband, the public does have every right to protest their beliefs as they have the right to freedom of speech. This was an issue that was based on censorship vs. free speech, as the courts did not want to violate Homolka’s rights of her own security, however lawyers and the public both argued that they were entitled to the freedom of speech, freedom of press, etc., especially when it came to their safety. Since Kovacs did not allow any foreign media in the courtroom, the publication ban, as well as the public’s outrage and protest on the early release of Karla Homolka, they protested in a nonviolent way to defy the law for moral and ethical reasons. These concerned citizens aimed to revise the law to allow more media coverage to inform people what Karla Homolka has done because every individual has the right to security, equality, and freedom.