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Movie Review: Karla just doesn't wash

The Toronto Star, GEOFF PEVERE, Movie critic, Jan. 20, 2006


Starring Laura Prepon, Misha Collins, Patrick Bauchau, Tess Harper. Directed by Joel Bender. 99 minutes. At major theatres. 18A

Presumably operating on the assumption that what's good for the courts is good for drama, the fleetingly (and locally) sensational low-budget true-crime movie Karla tells the story of the 1990 St. Catharines "schoolgirl killings" from its infamously dead-eyed namesake's point of view: a Read More ..nest title would be Karla's Case.

But what worked for the real Homolka, who managed to negotiate one of the most outrageously light sentences in Canadian legal history in exchange for testifying against her multiple rapist-murderer ex-husband Paul Bernardo, doesn't necessarily float in terms of movie logic.

While the legal professionals who bought Homolka's story of coerced domestic victimhood may have had ulterior motives for doing so, disinterested movie audiences will probably just look on in stupefied disbelief. You mean, we're really supposed to buy this?

Opening at a Saskatchewan correctional facility one sunset afternoon in 2000, and framed by a psychiatric evaluation to determine Homolka's eligibility for parole, the movie unfolds as a series of voice-over recollections. Such staple intensity-signifying devices are employed as handheld camera and video flashbacks from the coolly cigarette-puffing inmate (played by Laura Prepon, formerly of That '70s Show), intermittently punctuated by the understandably skeptical queries of the quietly authoritative presiding physician (Patrick Bauchau).

It begins with her initial meeting and fatal attraction to Bernardo (Misha Collins, scary but not nearly as suburban-psycho creepy as the real thing), a grinning, drugstore-blond preppie whom she describes as "beautiful" before jumping into bed with him in front of startled friends. Veteran TV director and writer Joel Bender's competent but unremarkable ready-for-cable movie moves through episodes of increasing luridness in the lovers' relationship while maintaining its narrator's attitude of helpless detachment.

(Incidentally, the movie's first-person testimonial approach has been charged with making Karla sympathetic. It doesn't. Like the real Homolka's testimony, the battered victim story is simply too preposterous to be believed.)

Although Bernardo quickly establishes himself as a moody sexual sadist and Vanilla Ice wannabe who regularly slugs his fiance to the sound of synthetic sturm-und-drang on the soundtrack, Karla stands by watching it all in a state of slightly mortified docility. (Most frequently repeated shot: Karla standing paralyzed in a bedroom doorway.)

Needless to say, the doctor finds this attitude particularly as it maintains itself through the gathering atrocities of the murder of Karla's sister and the kidnapping, torture and murders (in her own home) of two teenage victims, a little hard to swallow.

At one point, he interrupts one of her accounts of sex with Bernardo. The doctor asks just how normal she thinks it is to egg on a sexual sadist by participating in acts of sexual sadism. In sultry Sharon Stone fashion, she peers from beneath hooded eyelids and wonders if the doctor himself has never indulged in dirty fun.

While Karla's Homolka-eye view has already made it a powerkeg of flashpoint pre-release controversy (which will probably fade within days of the movie's release), the most surprising thing about it is how comparatively restrained it is. All of the atrocities take place offscreen, and there's nothing to be seen or heard in the movie that isn't easily trumped in the shock department by much of the mainstream coverage of the case over the past 15 years.

But crediting Karla for what it doesn't show would only be warranted if something resembling a larger strategy was evident behind the film's dramatic selections if it had, that is, a point of view of its own.

Naturally, there's a lot it does not show, and not just for reasons of taste or civic conscience: there are at least a dozen or so larger stories contained within the Bernardo/Homolka case like the controversial initial investigations, the so-called "deal with the devil," the role of developing forms of media and technology (video, the Internet) in the case, and the three-ring circus atmosphere surrounding Homolka's release that Karla touches on barely or not at all. Indeed, it almost never leaves the house.

Obviously, to expect all of this from a single movie is absurd. What is not absurd is to expect some reasonable accounting for the choices that it does make.

And this is where Karla falls flat. Having settled on Karla's version of events as its own, it makes nothing of that choice. You can call it guilty of exploitation, tastelessness or insensitivity if you like, but its greatest failing is a certain deadly pointlessness.

Instead of bridging the gap that opens between Karla's posture of meek subjugation to the sick Bernardo's will and our incredulousness like the doctor, we keep asking "Why the hell are you just standing there?" with some form of irony or critical distance, Karla just lets it open like a hole collapsing over a poor foundation.

So the ultimate issue isn't whether or not the movie demonstrates some kind of gross abnegation of moral responsibility by taking Homolka's story as its own the fact that it makes this perspective clear may be one small stroke in its favour but why does it do so? To what possible dramatic purpose? In the end, Karla is just mediocre, half-baked moviemaking inspired by a locally sensational criminal event. And, like the character whose story is allowed to unfold, it's paralyzed by its own logic-flummoxing lack of resolve.

Like Karla the movie character, it stands back and watches from a distance and expects us to buy that as the whole story. And, as thousands of outraged people already know too well, that tale just doesn't wash.

National Post

Ontario's child financial support collection agency has big problems

Ontario's Family Responsibility Office has many problems

Quote from Ontario Government Ombudsman -"an equal opportunity error-prone program,."'

Support recipients not getting their money.

Men who've been meeting their court-ordered obligations have trouble getting the FRO to stop taking payments when it's supposed to.   Read More ..

National Post logo

Pilloried, broke, alone

March 25, 2000

Divorced fathers get a bad rap for not supporting their children. The truth is, many can't. And, tragically, some are driven to desperate measures, including suicide.

In his suicide note, Jim, the father of four children, protests that "not all fathers are deadbeats." Jim hanged himself because he couldn't see any alternative. Even now, his children are unaware of the circumstances of their father's death. Meeno Meijer, National Post George Roulier is fighting to regain money wrongfully taken from his wages by the Ontario child-support collection agency. Chris Bolin, National Post Alan Heinz, a Toronto firefighter, has gone bankrupt fighting for the return of his daughter, 3, from Germany. No one will help him, but German authorities are trying to collect child support from him.

Whenever fathers and divorce are discussed, one image dominates: the 'deadbeat dad,' the schmuck who'd rather drive a sports car than support his kids. Because I write about family matters, I'm regularly inundated with phone calls, faxes, letters and e-mail from divorced men. It's not news that divorced individuals have little good to say about their ex-spouses. What I'm interested in is whether the system assists people during this difficult time in their lives, or compounds their misery. From the aircraft engineer in British Columbia, to the postal worker on the prairies, to the fire fighter in Toronto, divorced fathers' stories are of a piece: Though society stereotypes these men relentlessly, most divorced dads pay their child support. Among those who don't, a small percentage wilfully refuse to (the villains you always hear about).

What you haven't been told is that the other men in arrears are too impoverished to pay, have been ordered to pay unreasonable amounts, have been paying for unreasonable lengths of time, or are the victims of bureaucratic foul-ups. Read More ..

Calgary Sun newspaper logo

Non-dad on hook for support

Edmonton and Calgary Sun
Feb 5, 2005

EDMONTON -- An Edmonton judge has decided a divorced dad has to make child support payments, even though the child isn't his. Justin Sumner had an on-again-off-again relationship with the woman he eventually married, Dawn Sumner.

She already had a child from a previous relationship with a man named Rob Duncan, and as she and Justin broke up and reunited, Dawn was sexually involved with both men.

When she found she was pregnant, she called Justin, who recognized there was a possibility that Duncan was the father, but later concluded he was the dad.

Father Committeed Suicide after calling Family Responsibility Office

Andrew T. Renouf committed suicide on or about October 17, 1995 because he had 100% of his wages taken by the Family Responsibility Office, a child support collection agency of the Government of Ontario, Canada.

He asked for assistance for food and shelter from the welfare office and was refused because he had a job, even though all of his wages were taken by the Family Responsibility Office.

Andy was a loving father that hadn't seen his daughter in 4 years.

A memorial service was held in October, 1998, for Andy in front of the Family Responsibility Office at 1201 Wilson Avenue, West Tower, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This is in the Ministry of Transportation grounds in the Keele St. & Hwy 401 area. All members of the Ontario Legislature were invited by personal letter faxed to their offices. Not one turned up. The Director of the Family Responsibility Office and his entire staff were invited to the brief service. The Director refused and wouldn't let the staff attend the service although it was scheduled for lunch time. There was a peaceful demonstration by followed by a very touching service by The Reverend Alan Stewart. The text of the service will soon be able to be read below.

The service made the TV evening news.

It was Andy's last wish that his story be told to all. YOU CAN READ HIS SUICIDE NOTE

Auditor General Ontario

Auditor General of Ontario

Disasterous Report on the Family Reponsibility Office FRO 2010

80% of Telephone calls don't get answered

Payers and recipients do not have direct access to their assigned enforcement services officer

"There is only limited access to enforcement staff because many calls to the Office do not get through or are terminated before they can be answered."

"The Office is reviewing and working on only about 20% to 25% of its total cases in any given year."

"At the end of our audit in April 2010, there were approximately 91,000 bring-forward notes outstanding, each of which is supposed to trigger specific action on a case within one month. The status of almost one-third of the outstanding bring-forward notes was "open," indicating either that the notes had been read but not acted upon, or that they had not been read at all, meaning that the underlying nature and urgency of the issues that led to these notes in the first place was not known. In addition, many of the notes were between one and two years old."

"For ongoing cases, the Office took almost four months from the time the case went into arrears before taking its first enforcement action. For newly registered cases that went straight into arrears, the delay was seven months from the time the court order was issued."

Ottawa Citizen

Ontario agency admits to overbilling on child support payments

The Ottawa Citizen
January 14, 2012

TORONTO - Ontario's controversial Family Responsibility Office has been overbilling 1,700 parents, mostly fathers, for as long as 13 years, the province admitted Friday.

The 1,700 parents were overbilled by an average $75 each month, after the agency wrongly applied a cost of living adjustment that was eliminated in 1997.

Those who were overpaid will not be forced to give the money back.

Instead, taxpayers will foot the $5.3 million bill for the agency's mistake.

"This error's been found and it's being corrected," said Liberal cabinet minister John Milloy. "We're going to be reaching out to those individuals (who were overbilled) and talking to them about their situation, formally alerting them."

The Family Responsibility Office, or FRO, is responsible for ensuring court-ordered child support payments are made. Read More .. than 97 per cent of all payers overseen by the office are male.

Milloy said the agency discovered the problem at some point in 2011. No one will be fired for the mistakes, he added.

"I see this as something very serious," he said in an interview. "I'm not trying to minimize it, but … there's been lots of action taken to reform FRO, to update computer systems, to update customer relations and it's on a much firmer footing."

The billing mistake is only the latest controversy to engulf FRO.

Women's Post Newspaper

"Canada's national newspaper for professional women"

The Family Responsibility Office Under Scrutiny

On June 9, 2005 the McGuinty government announced the passage of Bill 155, legislation that promised to increase enforcement, improve fairness and enhance efficiency at the Family Responsibility Office (FRO).

However, the legislation did not address the problem of accountability and, as things now stand, the FRO is a threat to every Canadian affected by a government regulated support and custody arrangement system. Think of George Orwell's 1984 and you'll have a good picture of how issues are handled at the FRO.

They have legal power to extort money from Canadians, but are not responsible or accountable for their actions.

Last year an FRO staff member decided not to wait for a court date to review the financial status of an out-of-work truck driver and took it upon themselves to suspend his license because he was, understandably, behind on his payments, having lost his job earlier in the year. Although he was looking for work, the FRO cut off the only way he knew of to earn a living. His suicide note explained how he'd lost all hope. Is this what we want FRO to be doing?  Read More ..

Reader's Digest Canada

The Truth About Deadbeat Dads

Read More ..

The Women's Post

"Canada's National newspaper for professional women"

Does the FRO have a feminist perspective?

When families fall apart, they can make for the bitterest of enemies. The intensity of their hostility, the personal rhetoric, the posturing and positioning, and the utter faithlessness of remembrance in the relationship's good deeds and consequences is a breathtaking phenomenon. It's as if the positive qualities and countless achievements are struck from history as a revisionist might strike the Holocaust. Into all of this the family court system wades, often inelegantly. Divorce lawyers drive up the emotional and financial toll of separation and transformation. Family and friends frequently collude to make things worse.

And when government decides to rear its head, well, it's a mess for all the world to see. Witness the recent attention on Ontario's euphemistically branded Family Responsibility Office. A job in advertising doubtlessly greeted the person who came up with its title, because it suggests some sort of feel-good missionary work to hold together the sanctity of the institution.   Read More ..

Calgary Sun

Ruling a big red flag for men

Calgary Sun,
February 5, 2005

If men knew more about family law, they'd run screaming from single mothers prowling for relationships and father figures for their children.

Any lawyer will tell you that the nature of your relationship with a child - not biology - determines whether you're on the hook for child support.

Sperm has nothing to do with it, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a few years ago. Read More ..