Quebec school board reassures parents after reports of Karla Homolka living among them
Convicted killer, ex-wife of Paul Bernardo, now said to be living in Châteauguay
A school and school board south of Montreal are trying to calm concerns from parents after media reported convicted killer Karla Homolka and her family are living in the community.
A letter went home to parents at Centennial Park Elementary School in Châteauguay on Tuesday.
"Our community is dealing with a difficult situation and many of you have questions and concerns," school principal Joanne Daviau wrote. "Please be assured that your children are safe when they are at school."
The letter says the New Frontiers School Board brought the information to the Châteauguay police after a reporter went door to door to ask if people knew Homolka was living in the area.
"As you know, under Quebec law, all children have the right to privacy and an obligation to be in school," Daviau wrote. "This is why I cannot comment any further or provide any personal information about any family."
Homolka, who legally changed her name to Leanne Teale, was released from prison in 2005.
In 1995, her then husband, Paul Bernardo, was found guilty in the kidnapping, rape and murder of teenagers Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. The pair were arrested in 1993.
In a deal with the Ontario Crown attorneys in exchange for testifying against Bernardo, Homolka was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter for her role in the murders. Bernardo was given life in prison with no possibility of parole for 25 years, and later declared a dangerous offender.
After her release from prison, Homolka lived in Quebec and the Caribbean. She married and had children.
In an interview with Radio-Canada after her release, Homolka expressed concern about the greater public's perception of her and her crimes.
"I don't want people to think that I am someone dangerous who will do something to their children," she said.
Sylvie Bordelais, the lawyer who represented Homolka after her release from prison and sat beside her in that 2005 television appearance, declined a request for an interview.
In an emailed statement, she criticized the media for the "dirty work" done in reporting the story of Homolka's whereabouts.
"My only comment for the moment is that I see this as a public lynching started by your colleagues, and inciting hate and intimidation towards children who are not yet 10 years old, generated by your journalistic practices," she wrote.
Homolka completed her prison sentence in full 11 years ago and didn't seek early parole.
Right to privacy?
The question of how much the public should know about someone like Homolka after a release from prison has no simple answer. Parents in Châteauguay are angry they learned about Homolka's apparent move to the community through the media.
But Montreal criminal lawyer Eric Sutton points out that legally, since there's no suggestion she's been involved in any criminal activity since her sentence was served, she has every right to put her past behind her.
"Like it or not, she has the right to live her life like any other person, without being subject to threats and harassment and being hounded to the point that she seeks refuge in her own home and is afraid to leave, " he said.
"I think it behooves the authorities to make a statement just to calm the air and indicate there will be no police action. If anyone needs protection here, it's probably her."
Châteauguay police would not comment on Homolka's residency.
"The Châteauguay police would like to remind people that it cannot confirm the identity of a person living in the area or not," police said in a statement.
"Its mission is to promote peace, order and quality of life of all of its citizens and visitors in the area, in respect with the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights and liberties."
The New Frontiers School Board released its own statement Wednesday afternoon that said there are policies in place to ensure adults who work or volunteer directly with students have criminal background checks and that access to the school is controlled during the day.
The board also says it set up a team of psychologists and counsellors at the school and urged any parents concerned about their child's emotional state to contact the principal.