Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Devil Incarnate" Gets His Due - Clifford Olson Dies: Hip Hip...Hooray???

When rumours leaked a week or so ago that convicted serial child killer Clifford Olson was near death in his Quebec prison, the reaction was near unanimous. The feeling among the families of his young victims was that they may finally experience peace once Olson was no longer walking this earth. And on Friday at the Institutional Health Care Centre of the Archambault Institution in Sainte-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec, the 71 year old did indeed succumb to cancer.

Reaction has been quick. A step-Mom of one of the murdered children said that "We have been waiting for D-Day and it's finally here. D-Day stands for deliverance to the Devil."

Other parents weren't quite so visceral, saying that having Olson still alive has been like "a toothache pounding in his head - and now it's vanished." Now that he's gone, part of me can heal."

Clifford Olson was born in Vancouver and went on trial in 1982 for the sex murders of 11 children - 8 girls and 3 boys between the ages of 9 and 18 in B.C. He plead guilty and was sentenced to 11 concurrent life sentences for murder. Some murderers eventually express great remorse for their actions; Clifford Olson was not one of these people. He dubbed himself the "Beast of B.C." and wrote detailed accounts and sketchings of his killings. He once told a reporter, "Peter, I can never be released. If I was, I'd kill again. Don't know why, but I would. I'd have executed me if I was on the jury."

And now with his death, the all-too-predictable headlines have popped up. The Toronto Sun, never one for sensationalism (cough cough) showed his picture on its front page with the title, "Death of the Devil" and offered inside that now Olson can "rot in Hell."

Before I continue on, let me say this: By any standard, Clifford Olson was a deeply disturbed human being who should have never been let out of prison if there was any chance at all of him hurting anyone else. What he did in killing 11 children and destroying their families lives is horrific and I can't imagine losing a child to a murderer.

Having said that, I continue by saying that Clifford Olson, no matter how we'd like to deny it, was a human being. He was not the incarnation of Beelzebub or Lucifer. He did not rise from the fires of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. Clifford Olson was a Canadian man.

And Clifford Olson was obviously sick. The fact that he held no remorse for his crimes makes that quite clear. Call me a bleeding-heart lefty, but trying to separate a criminal away from the human race by calling him a devil or the face of evil does nothing to help those left behind or our world in general.

So, if we jettison name-calling and stop drawing editorial cartoons of Clifford Olson wading in a lake of fire, what are we left with?

I think that we are left with the fact that he was mentally ill, and if we open our eyes and look around, we will see that there are thousands upon thousands of Canadians and millions worldwide who are also mentally ill. Although most mentally ill people do not kill 11 children and may not be violent whatsoever, they also face a kind of stigma and even shunning from the rest of society, and are sometimes made to feel that they are no longer "really human." We avoid them, perhaps not as much as we'd avoid Clifford Olson if he were to pass us on the street, but we still avoid them.

In conclusion, the mentally ill are to be treated with kindness and given the best medical care possible, rather than being set apart from society. And even though it is hard, perhaps we need to strip Clifford Olson of his "devil" status, realize that he was a human being, and commit anew to helping the sick rather than so easily demonizing them. Name-calling helps no-one.