A judge has attempted to give Russell Williams’s wife the one thing she so desperately craves: privacy. In a ruling released last week as part of the couple’s ongoing divorce case, Madam Justice Jennifer Mackinnon issued a rare but sweeping publication ban that prohibits the press from further identifying the serial killer’s spouse—despite the fact that her name and photograph have already appeared in countless news reports. As the judge concluded, the woman now known as M.E.H. is “vulnerable and is entitled to be shielded from further publicity to some extent.”
Lawyers representing the ex-colonel’s wife did not actually ask for such a ban. In fact, they conceded that “an anonymity order would not be helpful,” considering that her name is already scattered across cyberspace. They were much more concerned about keeping her private medical records, including a recent psychiatric assessment, confidential.
Yet the judge essentially did the opposite. Mackinnon’s written ruling, available to any member of the public, includes lengthy portions of the very medical evidence that Williams’s wife was anxious to keep under wraps. So while her identity is now technically a secret, the judgment provides the clearest glimpse yet of the pain and desperation M.E.H. has endured over the past 15 months—including bouts of “disorientation,” “occasional heart palpitations,” and a perpetual fear that “people will recognize her.”
“[She] has experienced a very shocking event in her life that has caused irreparable harm to her mental health,” her psychiatrist wrote in his recent assessment, which is quoted at length in the April 12 judgment. “She is, in effect, a mere shadow of her usual self.”
She has lost 25 lb. over the past year, is tormented by “emotional shock and chronic stress,” and “when not extremely busy in the workplace, she has found herself preoccupied with the victims of her husband, and their relatives.” The woman who shared her life with a relentless sexual predator—and who, like everyone else, had no idea he was leading a heinous double life—continues “to manifest signs and symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder.”
Yet despite everything—the betrayal, the humiliation, the pending divorce—Williams’s wife of 20 years remains in contact with her notorious husband. According to the judgment, she has visited Kingston Penitentiary four times since his guilty plea last October, most recently in March. The ruling also confirms, for the first time, that the confessed killer agreed to transfer his $60,000 military pension to his spouse as part of a “domestic contract” signed six weeks after his arrest. (That same deal gave her full ownership of their $700,000 townhouse and other “additional assets,” but until now, it wasn’t certain that his pension was part of the contract.)
Williams’s wife wanted her entire divorce to proceed in secret, claiming the inevitable press coverage would jeopardize her “fragile recovery.” Numerous media outlets (not including Maclean’s) challenged the motion, arguing that a full sealing order would breach the open court principle. Mackinnon settled on a “carefully tailored” compromise.
Along with the publication ban on her name (which applies to any report that mentions her divorce filing), Williams’s wife can submit her tax returns, bank receipts and other financial information in censored form, ensuring that personal details, such as her salary, remain confidential. But anything related to the domestic contract—including property transfers and his air force pension—must be filed in open court. “There is a public interest in knowing what [Williams] did with his assets after being charged, namely whether he took steps to put his assets beyond the reach of potential claims by victims,” Mackinnon ruled. Williams’s first sexual assault victim is already suing the couple on similar grounds, claiming the townhouse transfer was a “fraudulent conveyance.”
As outlined in the judgment, Williams’s wife started seeing a psychiatrist in the days after Feb. 7, 2010, when detectives first descended on her home. She was initially “very distraught” and “weepy,” and “had difficulties sleeping, concentrating, and with her immediate memory.” By March, however, her condition improved to the point where she was able to return to the townhouse and resume her work. She continued to see her therapist once a month, and “made significant gains under very difficult circumstances.” In October, when Williams was sentenced to life in prison for a gruesome crime spree that included the murders of Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd, M.E.H. followed her psychiatrist’s advice and left the country to “escape the intense media coverage.”
It wasn’t until December, when she went public with her plans to divorce, that she began to relapse. According to her psychiatrist, Williams’s wife became “more tearful, worried and apprehensive” because she knew the divorce case would “focus more attention on her.” She has trouble sleeping and eating, constantly clenches her teeth, and “is inclined to be obsessively preoccupied with the circumstances of her life.” Her mother and father are dead, she has no children of her own, and she “has very little support” other than a core group of friends and colleagues.
“She has been successful in her workplace through sheer drive, determination and effort despite significant emotional distress,” her psychiatrist said in his assessment, conducted in January. “[She] is a private individual and she does need calm, peace and quiet in order to continue functioning normally. She currently feels that she has no privacy left.”
And that was before the judge released her latest ruling.