Media circus descends on sleepy town Joliette, Que.
Katherine Wilton, CanWest News Service, Thursday, June 2, 2005
JOLIETTE, Que. - As a courthouse clerk, Annie Gallant normally spends her days sifting through divorce papers.
But those duties were shelved yesterday as Ms. Gallant was instructed to give courthouse tours to dozens of journalists who have descended on this sleepy town in anticipation of Karla Homolka's first courtroom appearance in 10 years.
"This is a lot of fun," said Ms. Gallant, who admits to being caught up in the Karla-mania that is sweeping through Joliette. "We are all talking about her at work. Everyone knows what she did."
For the next 24 hours, this small town on the banks of the Assomption River will become the media capital of Canada, as dozens of reporters and camera people from across Quebec and Ontario invade the town to cover a special court hearing for the woman who has committed some of the most heinous crimes in Canadian history.
"It is unbelievable -- people are coming from everywhere --Toronto, Ottawa and all over Quebec," said Constable Benoit Richard of the Joliette police. "There are so many people, we had to close the street. My job is to protect my citizens."
As satellite trucks took up prime positions outside the courthouse, courtroom employees shook their heads in disbelief at the circus that was unfolding in their town, 70 kilometres northeast of Montreal.
Inside the courthouse, staff were working flat-out to make sure they were ready for the media onslaught.
Down one hallway, employees were erecting two large screens and a closed-circuit camera so the hearing can be transmitted live to two other courtrooms that can hold another 200 people.
Courthouse officials have recruited several bilingual employees who will be able to direct English-speaking journalists to the right courtroom.
"We know this is a huge case and we want to provide the best service possible," said Pierre-Bernard Raymond, the acting regional director of judicial services in the Lanaudiere region.
Mr. Raymond said camera people and photographers will be kept at least 20 metres from the courtroom to prevent them from trying to film Homolka through the small window in the courtroom door.
"We want to maintain order," he said.
Homolka, 35, is serving the last few weeks of a 12-year plea bargain sentence for her role in the sex killings of two Ontario schoolgirls.
Her former husband, Paul Bernardo, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killings of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy and has been declared a dangerous offender.
Fearing that Homolka is still a threat to the public, the Ontario government will ask a Quebec Court judge today to impose restrictions on Homolka's movements when she is released from the Joliette prison for women. Her sentence officially ends on July 5 but she may be released several days earlier.
A woman who lives in an apartment building overlooking the prison yard was letting a steady stream of photographers on to her sixth-floor balcony yesterday to try to capture a picture of Homolka.
"I have had five people show up today," said the woman, who declined to give her name.
Sometime early this morning, Homolka will leave the maximum security wing, step into a prison van and make the two-kilometre drive to the courthouse.
If she peers out the window, she will face a phalanx of camera people and photographers desperate to get a recent picture of Canada's most notorious female prisoner.
The public's ongoing revulsion toward Homolka stems from the widely held belief that she failed to disclose her true role in the girls' killings and she has not been adequately punished for her crimes.
"I don't think she should be getting out of prison," said Joliette resident Micheline Maheu. "From what I hear, she is not rehabilitated. I certainly wouldn't want her living anywhere near me."
National Post 2005