Robert Pickton can't be prevented from profiting from memoir
Canadians outraged serial killer's book for sale online
There is nothing to prevent Canada's most prolific serial killer from making money as an author even as he sits in prison for the slayings of six women.
Robert Pickton, 66, proclaims his innocence in a memoir penned at maximum-security Kent Institution in B.C., where he is serving a life sentence.
Pickton: In His Own Words was selling for around $20 on Amazon.ca, where it was ranked a No. 1 bestseller and a "hot new release" before it was suddenly made unavailable, with no explanation. As of Monday morning, the 144-page book was still being offered on Amazon's U.S. site, accompanied by a rambling excerpt, but it was no longer available by the afternoon.
Outraged Canadians vented their anger in the comments sections of the Amazon sites as well as through a petition on Change.org.
Among those who'd called on Amazon to pull the title was B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Morris.
"It is deeply disturbing to hear that a book about Robert Pickton's story is being sold," Morris said in a statement to CBC News on Sunday.
"We are taking this very seriously and investigating every means available to ensure that the families involved are protected from further harm, and that Robert Pickton will not profit in any way from this book," he said. "Our government believes that crime should not pay, so all British Columbians are safe. We are very clear on this."
But it's unclear what recourse the minister has.
Unlike some provinces, B.C. does not have a law aimed at preventing criminals from profiting from their crimes.
Saskatchewan invoked its Profits of Criminal Notoriety Act in 2010 to force former cabinet minister Colin Thatcher to relinquish the royalties from his book Final Appeal: Anatomy of a Frame, in which he detailed the 1984 murder of his ex-wife JoAnn Wilson. The son of a former Saskatchewan premier, Thatcher served 22 years in prison and was paroled in 2006.
Last year, another of Canada's most notorious killers, Paul Bernardo, caused a stir when he self-published and began selling his e-book on Amazon.
But in Ontario, where Bernardo is serving out his indefinite sentence, as in Alberta and Nova Scotia, the law says only that a criminal may not make money from recounting his crime.
Bernardo's A MAD World Order, though reportedly full of violent, gory imagery and terrorist plots, was billed as a political spy thriller. Nonetheless, soon after the public outcry, a site search failed to turn up the novel. Amazon never explicitly said it had pulled the title nor commented at all on the issue.
Some argued that banning novels just because they are written by deplorable people is a "slippery slope."
Neither the Canadian Civil Liberties Association nor PEN Canada were available to comment on whether seizing profits from criminals' literary endeavours violates their right to freedom of expression.
Alan Young, a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote about the issue as far back as 1988, in the wake of the so-called Son of Sam laws in the U.S., which were named after the notorious New York killer David Berkowitz.
"The protection of the Charter does not end at the prison gate," wrote Young, co-founder of the Innocence Project, which seeks to investigate and overturn wrongful convictions.
Either as a way to deny criminals or a way to compensate victims, such laws "suffer from the flaw of having a disproportionate impact on the right of free speech," he wrote.
The RCMP has a Proceeds of Crime branch that has the authority to confiscate "illicit wealth accumulated through criminal activities," but its focus is on money laundering and terror financing.
CBC News asked federal Justice Minister Jodi Wilson-Raybould what the Liberal government's position is on stripping criminals of publishing profits, and did not get a response.
Pickton, a pig farmer in Port Coquitlam, B.C., was convicted in 2007 for the second-degree murders of six women and was suspected in dozens of others, although a further 20 murder charges were stayed. He once confessed to an undercover police officer that he had murdered 49 women.
- An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that Alan Young was a former York University law professor. In fact, he is a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School.Feb 24, 2016 3:34 PM ET