Battling society’s cold curiosity Debbie Mahaffy speaks out for victim’s rights
[Interim correspondent Sue Careless interviewed Debbie Mahaffy shortly before the trial of Karla Homolka. Homolka was on trial for the murder of Debbie Mahaffy’s daughter Leslie and was eventually given a 12-year sentence.]
Leslie Mahaffy would be proud of her mother. The Burlington 14 year-old was brutally slain and dismembered two years ago, but her mother has tried to function by taking positive action.
“Sadly, my daughter died for two people’s entertainment. Her death should not become anyone else’s entertainment. And certainly no one should profit from her death or the tragic deaths of any victim of violence.
“Our family has a right to privacy. Ryan, who is only nine, does not need to hear all the details of his sister’s death, nor of what the police found in [Paul Teale’s] house. I don’t want her friends to be hurt again. What the police, judge and jury hear is one thing. The details do not have to be made public. To do so causes our family further pain and I feel the motive for publishing them is simply profit.”
Mrs. Mahaffy would like to see a Victim’s Rights Bill in Ontario and Canada, modeled on the one in Quebec. Current Ontario compensation hardly covers funeral bills let alone lost wages from time spent in grief and at court. Cam Jackson MPP for Burlington has a Private Member’s Bill now in the Ontario Legislature.
Victims Memorial Conference
On June 27, the day before the Homolka trial, Debbie Mahaffy and Linda Mancuso of A Safe Place Foundation, held a Victims Memorial Conference called “Faces of Violence” for over 50 families across Southern Ontario whose lives have been affected by violence.
Each family sent a picture and a favourite verse, song or hymn that was of comfort to them. A private Memorial Service was held for the families. Later Scott Newark, President of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, addressed the delegates. Groups who participated included The White Ribbon Campaign, Caveat, Commission for More Effective Criminal Sentencing, The Safe Place Foundation, Canadians for Positive Community Standards, Canadians for Decency, The Coalition for the Safety of our Daughters, and Bereaved Families of Ontario. There were several petitions circulated including three concerning the Young Offenders Act.
“June and July are hard months for me. Last year we held a memorial service for Leslie and 13 other teens who had died accidentally or by disease in the Burlington area. They had just exhumed Leslie’s body so it was like a second funeral. We parents are all in the same boat but the waves are hitting us from different directions. I feel like I just keep getting broadsided.
“Even in a normal death, friends don’t know how to respond. We need to hear, ‘I care, I’m worried for you.’” The former Burlington Superintendent of Police has been wonderful in starting a Victims Services Group. When we were first told about Leslie’s death there were not only two police officers but also a bereavement counselor present. The police and the detectives could not have been more supportive. All the officers on the Green Ribbon Task Force have themselves been counseling in the last two years. The Crown, too, has been compassionate and helpful.
“But some of the press have been terrible. They’re always rushing for a deadline. Grief has no deadline. They never ask, ‘Do you feel up to talking? Is now a good time?’ All they want is a comment. I won’t give a comment; I have a story to tell.
“Right now I am trying to write a victim’s impact statement. The English language seems totally inadequate. Putting intimate, complicated feelings down on paper only seems to trivialize them.”
Killer Trading Cards
Debbie Mahaffy is campaigning against killer trading cards, killer board games and slasher video games and films. To an them effectively she is attempting to redefine obscenity in the Criminal Code.
“I don’t want a picture of her murderer on a card children can swap on a playground. I have a nine year old son, Ryan. A schoolmate once taunted him, claiming that he had a card with a picture of Leslie lying dead. No card exists yet but there could be one soon of her killers and Leslie would simply be reduced to a statistic – one kill.
“These True Crime murder cards do not portray the heroes we want our children to emulate. We may enlist the help of sports figures pictured on decent collector cards to speak out against these serial killer cards. These cards may not yet be obscene in law but they certainly are in principle.”
Debbie Mahaffy’s group, ACTION: Canadians Taking Action Against Violence, already has over half a million signatures on a petition to ban killer cards. The petition is now before the federal cabinet. There is some opposition from groups who may use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically “freedom of expression.”
Mahaffy is also offended by a serial killer board game which is advertised as packaged in its own “body bag.” It comes with 25 plastic babies. Children are to play the role of serial killers. The winner is the one who can elude the FBI the longest and kill the most babies.
Legal Definition of Obscenity
“We need to change the legal definition of obscenity if we want to keep these cards and board games and some of the videos out of the market.” An element of sex is currently required to qualify a publication or object as obscene. Matters are only deemed “obscene” if their focus is the undue exploitation of sex, or sex and crime, horror, cruelty or violence.
The Progressive Conservative Caucus on Family Issues proposes to, “Expand the definition of ‘obscenity’ contained in section 163(8) of the Criminal Code to remove the need for any element of ‘sex’ where there is undue exploitation of crime, horror, cruelty or violence ‘that is degrading or dehumanizing.’” The caucus also recommends substituting the more general term “crime publications” for the reference to “crime comics” found in the Criminal Code.
“The victims have very few rights. They haven’t been taken away; there were few in the first place. The perpetrators have lots of rights and seem to be gaining more. We are further victimized by the media. We need to be a strong advocacy group. I don’t want Leslie’s death turned into a trashy TV movie or video film for another sick mind. The silent majority should be shouting!”
To obtain information regarding ACTION write: ACTION, Headon Postal Outlet, 93002 Burlington L7M 3A4 or fax (416) 335 8441.
(Portions of this interview appeared in the June 22, 1993 issue of Christian Week.)