“Trial that will grip the Nation” Redux

Before we get swept away in the frenzy of the Robert Pickton trial, it is useful to observe the lead-up to the last Canadian trial-of-the-century over ten years ago:

April 1995

Self-proclaimed “Joan of Arc of Pornography”, American Porn Feminist, Catharine MacKinnon saw the Bernardo trial as her opportunity to muscle in on Canadian legal affairs. The one-time Osgoode law professor became a mouthpiece for both sides of the case and wore out her welcome in T.O.. While the world waited and watched, papers like the Ottawa Citizen speculated on what it all meant:

“MacKinnon, known to brook no argument, is engaged to psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson, who once claimed he had slept with nearly 1,000 women.

Asked to explain her unusual choice of partners, MacKinnon, who has said equal relations between men and women are impossible in an unequal society, told New York Magazine: “We do our best. He’s not not a man, and I’m not not a woman.”

As for Masson, best known for his $ 7-million failed libel suit against New Yorker writer Janet Malcolm, he’s obviously gone ga ga.

“She will sit for 16 hours and not eat or drink unless I say, ‘Kitty you’ve got to drink.’

“She just sits and thinks deep thoughts. She is the greatest mind at work in the world today. Hearing her lecture often makes me cry. I am immensely privileged to be living with her. It is like living with God.”

April 5, 1995

The Sun’s Christina Blatchford waxed sympathetic, chewing the proverbial chestnut of families as victims:

To everyone involved in the Paul Bernardo case, they are “the Families”, with a capital F – the parents and siblings of slain schoolgirls Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.

But where traditionally, victims of violent crime and/or their survivors are relegated to the sidelines of the justice system, limited to such peripheral roles as submitting emotional victim-impact statements at time of sentencing, the Families are a driving force – some would say the driving force – in the Bernardo case.

And how far we’ve come. Now families are placed on the witness stand. That’s progress!

April 6, 1995

Jean Chretien weighs in on the whole affair. In a conversation to the CBC the Prime Minister expresses his dismay that Canadians are allowed to view the O.J. Simpson trial. Speaking of the upcoming Bernardo trial Chretien states, ”I think criminal justice should not be a show for citizens,”

He then gets sidetracked with a curling metaphor:

”Take the case of Sports Illustrated… It’s a form of dumping. There’s nothing Canadian in that magazine. They don’t talk about curling. So for us, we have to have the means to communicate our interests to our own people and when they come and they don’t change one page and just buy advertising cheaply in Canada, you’re killing the opportunity for people to have news from Canada.”

April 7th, 1995…

…and the Ottawa Citizen’s Trevor John is caught in a crying jag:

“I want to weep for the parents who must relive the horrible events that must be replayed for justice to be served. I weep for the young women.

I hold my four-year-old and I hug her tightly and try to think of what to say when she looks in shocked wonder and asks: “Why are you crying, Daddy?”I want to say, “Because I love you so much and I’ll always be there to protect you.” I weep for the fathers of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. They probably thought that, too.

I weep for the jury of 12 who will be required — on our behalf — to witness events that will doubtlessly haunt them for the rest of their lives. And I want to weep for the media lawyers who try to justify having these horrors revisited in open view of the public. I weep for the mothers and fathers who are forced again to fight to protect their children.”

Thank you Trevor John, for teaching us how to cry again

April 8, 1995

The Vancouver Sun informs us it is actually the media that is on trial in the quest to see the Bernardo video tapes:

” Money and giving orders are secondary, because you can build up or destroy societies and every person in them. It’s the power everyone wants and few are ever in a position to command. Among those few are the media, which unlike religionists and politicians collectively, answer to no one but themselves.

Good intentions and high principles aside, that’s too much power to unleash on the battered families of two young girls brutalized beyond anyone’s comprehension.”

The Vancouver Sun: having the discipline, guts and courage to stay true to the better angels of our nature.

April 9th, 1995

The CBC jibes lawyer, Tim Danson for basking in the limelight of American “superstars”:

“Photographs dotting the walls of Tim Danson’s spacious office map out a life studded with famous names and headline-grabbing cases.There’s track and field superstar Carl Lewis chatting with Danson’s 18-month-old daughter. There’s Danson alonside Michael Dukakis, family friend and former U.S. presidential candidate. “

Watch out Justice Busters, I think I just saw council rubbing elbows with Bode Miller and Dennis Kucinich.

April 12th, 1995

The Toronto Sun’s Scott Burnside promises “BERNARDO TRIAL THE HOT TICKET “:

“Court officials want it to be business as usual – but when the Paul Bernardo murder trial begins in less than a month, expect overnight lineups, heavy security and a street-full of television trailers.

A plan was unveiled yesterday to accommodate dozens of reporters and hundreds of spectators expected to descend on the country’s largest courthouse at 361 University Ave., for Bernardo’s first-degree murder trial.”

Burnside still hasn’t lost his ear for sensation. Check out his take on Becks move to Tinseltown over at ESPN

April 13th, 1995

Jim Millan, artistic director of Toronto’s Crow’s Theater believes the time is right to produce a play about serial killers:

“Their victims are vulnerable and available, in high-risk situations, but the killers are hard to pin down. They can’t be rehabilitated, they take no pleasure in what they do. They may be part demon and part seekers of understanding. They’ve usually been exposed to cycles of abuse. They’re acting out fantasy, trying to resolve a loss of involvement, but they may well appear quite normal to outsiders.”

Watch out John Douglas, looks like you’ve got some competition!

Note: In 2004 Millan revived Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love, a truly awful play about… (yawn) serial killers.

April 14, 1995

Chief Justice Antonio Lamer complains that the trial will be too long and complex (clearly he had no idea what was coming ten years later).

April 24th, 1995

The trial hasn’t started and defense attorney, John Rosen is already complaining about burn out:

‘I’m having very serious problems coming to grips with certainaspects of this, trying to marshal my forces… It’s starting to impact on Mr. Bernardo’s right to a fair trial.”

We’ll hear this one again

April 26th, 1995

The Gazette reports that the defendant is hungry:

“[Bernardo’s lawyer] said he was stopped by the guards when he tried to give his client an extra beef sandwich, which he’d brought from a court- house cafeteria.”

April 28, 1995

The Hamilton Spectator tells us to get ready for “THE TRIAL THAT WILL GRIP THE NATION”

Never fear. The Spectator will, “…set the scene for what is to come, with the most comprehensive information you’ll find anywhere on what has happened to this point, the legal controversies and court battles, and a who’s who of key people in the trial.”

By May, we’re off. Apparently oblivious to events in Southern California, The Ottawa Citizen is the first to reveal the Bernardo events for what they were:

“HEADLINE: ‘THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY’: In media hothouse, Bernardo evidence tests public’s right to know against what it wants to know”

Footnote: Other have vied for the “trial of the century” crown”

1. In 1990, Newsweek speculated the surrender of Manuel Noriega could lead to “the trial of the century”.

2. Controversy over the paintings of Robert Mapplethorpe in the 1990s lead to “the arts trial of the century” in Cincinnati, Ohio.

3. The “labor trial of the century” was won by union leaders in Canada and their right to spend members dues on “political causes as diverse as nuclear disarmament, abortion rights and the election campaigns of the New Democratic Party” – so ruled the the Supreme Court of Canada on June 28, 1991.

4. The “Russian trial of the century” was begun over the fate of the communist party in July of 1992.

There was the Edmonton trial of the century, Italy’s trial of the century, the Prairie trial of the century… on August 24, 1998 Newsweek pondered, What was the Trial of the Century?

In 1999, The Edmonton Journal lamented that the trial of Bill Clinton was …A FAR CRY FROM THE ‘TRIAL OF THE CENTURY’

Then in the new millennium The Toronto Star proclaimed Saddam’s trial the new trial of the century.

(you might note it is always Canadians who define legal proceedings in this fashion)

Anyway, come Monday get ready for the Next Trial of the Century!


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