CRIME

INFLICTING MORE PAIN

Clifford Olson’s right to a parole hearing every two years sparks outrage

KEN MACQUEEN July 24 2006
CRIME

INFLICTING MORE PAIN

Clifford Olson’s right to a parole hearing every two years sparks outrage

KEN MACQUEEN July 24 2006

INFLICTING MORE PAIN

Clifford Olson’s right to a parole hearing every two years sparks outrage

CRIME

KEN MACQUEEN

Clifford Olson had a swell old time on his last day as a free man. It was 25 years ago, Aug. 12, and he was drinking in an isolated Vancouver Island bush with two young female hitchhikers he’d picked up near Nanaimo. They might have been his next victims if an RCMP team hadn’t swooped in. His arrest ended a horrific nine-month spree during which Olson raped and murdered 11 teens and children. Onjuly 18, he’ll mark that anniversary a few weeks early by doing the one thing at which he excels—inflicting pain. At 8:30 a.m., in the federal prison at Ste-Annedes-Plaines, Que., Olson will make his case for freedom before the National Parole Board. It is the automatic right of anyone convicted of first-degree murder, after serving the minimum 25 years of a life sentence. And, if parole is denied—as it surely will be—he has the right to a hearing every two years thereafter. The law is the shield of a civilized society, but in the wrong hands it’s also a mighty weapon, as the families of Olson’s victims can attest.

Members of at least seven of those families will attend the hearing —braced to be victimized again. “There’s a lot of pain and suffering,” says Gary Rosenfeldt, whose 16-year-old stepson, Daryn, was raped and murdered by Olson. “And every two years,” says Rosenfeldt, “we’ve got to relive this whole damn thing again.” He and his wife, Sharon, Daryn’s mother, helped found the Victims of Violence Canadian Centre for Missing Children, a support and advocacy group that’s working with a former Crown prosecutor, Scott Newark, to lobby for changes. The Conservatives have promised tighter limits on parole, including the repeal of the so-called “faint hope” clause, which allows convicted murderers to seek early release after 15 years. They would not comment on the Olson case, but their plans would not limit the automatic right to regular parole hearings at 25 years.

Victims of Violence says it will press the federal government to consider a requirement that those routinely seeking parole must first prove they’ve taken measures to rehabilitate themselves. “This hearing coming up exemplifies the stupidity,” says Newark of Olson. “He is in a freakin’ super-maximum prison and yet the law says he’s entitled to apply for early release. Hello!”

Elizabeth White, executive director of the St. Leonard’s Society of Canada, an offenders’ rights group, shares the belief that Olson will not be released and sympathizes with the families, but hopes Ottawa doesn’t restrict parole hearings. “It is a horrible situation for the families. But that horrible situation exists simply because Mr. Olson continues to exist,” says White. “Twenty-five years is a pretty long time to not look at somebody. After 25 years, people deserve to be looked at.” Meantime, the families prepare for Olson’s parole hearing. Some have written victim impact statements. “He’s going to be behind bars,” says Rosenfeldt. “We’re also told there will be a screen separating us so he won’t be able to watch us as we give our statements.”

AT HIS `FAINT HOPE' HEARING. HE WAVED AND GRINNED AT THE FAMILIES

One father has told Rosenfeldt he won’t give Olson the satisfaction of knowing his pain. Rosenfeldt himself won’t submit a statement either, but his wife, Sharon, and Daryn’s younger sister Jana have already suffered the tearful exercise of putting thoughts on paper.

Many wrote similar statements nine years ago, for Olson’s “faint hope” hearing. The four-day hearing was one of the most bizarre and unsettling moments in B.C. judicial history. Olson was flown in on an RCMP jet while faraway relatives of Olson’s victims paid their own airfare and accommodations. The team of senior corrections officers guarding

him was given psychological briefings before and after. The court’s public gallery was sealed off by a wall of bulletand bomb-resistant glass. The hearing itself seemed to serve little purpose except to provide Olson with a massive ego boost. “I know I will never be paroled, I’m not a stupid man,” he admitted. During his rambling testimony he claimed responsibility for between 143 and 168 murders in Canada and the U.S., claims the police have investigated and largely dismissed. He seemed bemused at the assessment of two psychologists, one of whom said there is “no safe way” he can ever be released. He sat calmly through victim impact statements so drenched in pain that Joe Bellows, the implacable Crown prosecutor who read them, needed a recess to regain his composure. When his bid for parole was rejected, the families cheered. Olson waved and grinned at the pandemonium on the other side of the glass.

Olson, now 66, lives mostly in isolation in

a special-handling unit. Rosenfeldt has heard he’s in a homosexual marriage in prison, though it’s unclear if his unnamed spouse will testify. Next week’s hearing gives him, at the least, a break from the monotony of prison life, and at worst a chance to relive his past through the grief of parents and siblings. Yet there really is no choice but to play along, the Rosenfeldts say: you can’t risk the impression that it doesn’t matter if Olson is set free. So every two years they are doomed to confront the man who laid waste to so many lives—as long as he lives, or until he waives his rights or the law is changed. It’s a life sentence for all concerned. M