Every Canadian who cares about violence against women, equality and women's rights should condemn An Officer and a Murderer.
The made-for-TV movie dramatizing the heinous crimes of Russell Williams aired on the U.S. network Lifetime in July 2012. It debuted in Canada this week on The Movie Network.
Williams, a former colonel and commander of CFB Trenton, one of Canada's largest military bases, admitted in 2010 to the first-degree murder of Jessica Lloyd and Cpl. Marie-France Comeau. He was also convicted of forcible confinement, 82 attempted and successful break-ins, and sexually attacking several Jane Does. He is currently serving two concurrent life terms with no chance of parole for at least 25 years.
I was particularly horrified when Williams' despicable violence against Canadian women became entertainment material. Screenwriter Keith Ross Leckie says he "found the character of Russell Williams fascinating in a classic way, in (Truman) Capote's In Cold Blood or maybe the Boston Strangler." He says the movie is about "closure".
Bell Media, which owns The Movie Network, says the movie's delayed Canadian debut sought to "create some distance with the actual events." But a spokesperson for Bell betrayed the movie creators' profit motive when he told the Toronto Star: "Airing the film in prime time before September is an obligation that fulfils a requirement of the funding agencies who co-financed the production."
An Officer and a Murderer is a movie only someone steeped in profit-motivated amnesia could make. It's sensationalistic. A pervasive kind of entertainment. It glorifies violence against Canadian women. It stains the good honour of Canadian women and men in uniform.
The movie is likely to force surviving victims and families of the departed to relive the horror. From the clips I've watched, Williams' unspeakable acts and the victims' pain are recreated with precision accuracy.
We rejected this movie, albeit in our polite, inconclusive Canadian way. Leckie reportedly contacted the police and families of victims before writing the script. The police refused to comment. So did the victims' families. After Williams' conviction, we burned his tainted uniform. We trashed the vehicle that aided his crime spree. Canada destroyed William's medals. The military stripped him of his rank and dishonourably discharged him.
These actions bespoke the revulsion we'd collectively show if, for example, someone made a movie depicting the Taliban or other terrorists killing Canadian or US soldiers in Afghanistan. But the Americans ignored our collective voice. Actually, they didn't even think twice before making a movie glorifying a powerful military man killing two Canadian women on Canadian soil, and sexually abusing several Jane Does.
Then came the American disdain for all things Canadian.
In real life, a police task force led by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and Belleville Police nabbed Williams. Apparently, this quintessentially-Canadian achievement was neither dramatic nor American enough for the U.S. audience. In the movie, the role of the OPP is reduced to that of "a small town police detective who is determined to stop the Colonel dead in his tracks."
During the real life interrogation, captured in this 48 Hours Mystery documentary, Detective Sergeant Jim Smyth performed a world-class giant-killing act. Over nine hours, brick by brick, the OPP behavioural specialist dismantled a powerful man who had once flown the Queen and the prime minister. He skilfully plucked the confession out of Williams. In the movie, the detective is "an FBI trained interrogation specialist."
We failed Williams' victims on many levels.
The Williams case suggests that there's a cancer at the very heart of our male-dominated traditional institutions. Especially those of the political, business and military kind.
We were the water, and a lethal fish -- Williams -- swum in. We saw in him what we wanted to see: a rising Canadian star. Even as he broke into women's houses and stole their underwear. Even as he posed for photos wearing the stolen lingerie. Even as he tied up his victims, and filmed or photographed their pain and suffering.
We fail every day because, collectively, we lack the courage to reform even the most roguish of our male-dominated institutions. We lack the will to end violence against women. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, we don't even have a coherent national policy to address sexism and gender-based violence.
Last year, Corporal Catherine Galliford sued the RCMP for sexual harassment. Hundreds of women joined the lawsuit. In response, the Mounties attacked the victim, and told us Galliford had a drinking problem. Where is the outrage?
A report issued by Human Rights Watch earlier this year revealed the abusive treatment of Indigenous women by the RCMP, "including excessive use of force, and physical and sexual assault." The Native Women's Association of Canada has documented 582 cases of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in the past 30 years. Where is the outrage against this racialized, gender-based violence?
The least we can do now is to say no to An Officer and a Murderer.