COLUMN: Olson and the justice system

The Beast of B.C. – serial child killer Clifford Robert Olson – is dying of cancer.

When the last breath leaves the body of this 71-year-old psychopath, it will be the final page of Canada’s most horrific criminal case, but many questions will remain.

Virtually all of them have to do with the justice system, which dealt with Olson dozens of times prior to his killing spree, and then was manipulated and exploited by the murderer when he was caught, and again and again during his 30 years of incarceration.

Before he began his murderous rampage in 1980, Olson had spent all but five years of his adult life in prison and had been a juvenile delinquent. Some sources put his number of previous convictions above 90.

According to research undertaken by the parents of one of his young victims, Olson had sexually assaulted a seven-year-old girl in Nova Scotia in the 1970s. He committed a similar act in Edmonton, and at the time of his arrest for the chain of murders, there were a dozen outstanding charges of sexual assault against him that were not dealt with because it would have been too expensive to transport him to the various jurisdictions where the crimes had been committed.

He had been on police radar, but again, it would have taken huge law enforcement resources to keep tabs on the ticking bomb that was Olson, as he wandered all over B.C.

And then, during several months from 1980-81, Olson abducted, raped and murdered eight girls and three boys aged between nine and 18. He preyed on victims across the Lower Mainland and dumped bodies in remote areas from Chilliwack to Whistler.

He was finally arrested in the summer of 1981, and shortly thereafter, sparked another major justice system controversy.

The 1982 deal securing Olson’s guilty plea – and sparing families of his victims the pain of a long trial – included a controversial $100,000 trust fund payment to his wife and infant son. As part of the payment deal, Olson led police to the undiscovered bodies of his victims.

But Olson wasn’t finished torturing the families of the children he murdered.

He managed to send letters from prison, one of which went to the parents of a victim, describing how the boy had been killed.

Then in 1997, 15 years into his life sentence, Olson appeared in a Surrey courtroom, asking for early parole, under the “faint hope” clause. For several days, the court heard victim impact statements from families forced to relive the horror all over again.

He was denied parole, but under the clause, which allowed those serving a life sentence to apply for early parole, Olson could apply again.

Eventually, an amendment to the law excluded serial killers, but Olson was back before the courts in 2006, again applying for parole under another clause which allowed convicted killers who had served 25 years to seek release.

Olson hadn’t finished laughing at the joke we call a justice system.

It was recently discovered that he – along with other prisoners – was receiving in trust $1,170 a month in federal pension benefits while behind bars.

And of course, that’s not the only financial outrage of this evil legacy. There is the cost to taxpayers to keep him in a cell.

According to recent government reports, the annual cost of keeping a male inmate in prison rose to nearly $110,000 in 2009.

Olson has been in prison for 30 years. Even if incarceration expenses were half of present figures in the 1980s, it will have cost in the range of $2 million to keep this monster behind bars.

A few dollars worth of stout rope back in 1982 would have saved so much money, and so much pain.

Andrew Holota is the editor of The Abbotsford News, a sister paper to The Leader.

aholota@blackpress.ca

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