Canada’s most notorious

An exclusive poll reveals who Canadians consider the country’s worst criminals


Paul Irish/Getstock

Fame may be fleeting, but infamy endures. Karla Homolka recently came back into public view when journalist Paula Todd tracked her down in the Caribbean, revealing that the killer is now a mother of three. Around the same time, a controversial eight-month-long inquiry into the case of serial killer Robert Pickton wrapped up, with the families of the murdered women now waiting on the final report. In these ways and others, cases that grabbed headlines and shook the nation so many years ago never really go away.

Maclean’s has delved into its 107-year archive to refocus on some of the most intriguing and disturbing crime stories from our country’s history. As part of that special project, we asked Canadians to tell us who they consider to be the country’s worst criminals. It’s a short list of unspeakable horrors and unimaginable depravity, and in the end, the only difference is by degrees. Paul Bernardo and Homolka, convicted of abducting and killing two Ontario schoolgirls in the early 1990s, still loom large in the public imagination with 73 per cent of respondents to an exclusive Maclean’s/Angus Reid Public Opinion survey offering up their names. Pickton, the B.C. pig farmer found guilty in 2007 of the murders of six women, who once confessed to killing 43 more, was cited by 61 per cent. And Clifford Olson, who died in prison in 2011 while serving life sentences for the rapes and murders of 11 young people at the beginning of the 1980s, was identified by 44 per cent.

The passage of time doesn’t seem to make much of a difference when it comes to the power of such nightmares, but geographic proximity has an influence. In Ontario, for example, 31 per cent counted Russell Williams, the former Royal Canadian Air Force colonel who confessed to killing two women, among the worst, compared to just eight per cent in Alberta. Marc Lépine, who murdered 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique before turning his gun on himself, was named by a full third of Quebecers, yet only five per cent of B.C. residents. And while only one per cent of respondents on the Prairies offered up Allan Legere, the so-called Monster of the Miramichi remains a frightening memory in Atlantic Canada, where he was mentioned by 39 per cent.

Similarly, where Canadians live appears to have an impact on whether or not they feel justice has been served in several high-profile cases. Almost half of Ontarians believe Steven Truscott, convicted as a teenager of the 1959 killing of a schoolgirl neighbour, was unfairly treated by the system, well above the national average of 36 per cent. (Oddly, public perception lags behind the courts, which belatedly overturned his conviction in 2007.) Robert Latimer, the Saskatchewan farmer convicted in the mercy killing of his disabled daughter, is judged to have been a victim in his own right by just 38 per cent of Ontarians, yet by half of respondents on the Prairies and in Quebec. The system’s failure to secure a conviction in the bombing of Air India flight 182, and the deaths of all 329 people aboard, is considered unjust by 44 per cent of those in B.C., but 35 per cent nationally. (Although the more shocking figure is surely the 40 per cent who said they are “unfamiliar” with the worst act of terrorism in Canadian history.) The case of Homolka, who secured a controversial 12-year sentence in exchange for testifying against her husband, is perceived as a miscarriage of justice by 52 per cent nationally, but only 29 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. (The survey of 1,510 randomly selected Canadian adults was conducted from Oct. 29 to 30, 2012, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.)

Still, there is no such regional divide when it comes to the crimes of Homolka and Bernardo—who continues to serve his life sentences in protective custody in Kingston. The pair were rated among the worst of the worst in every part of the country. And, as with Pickton and Olson, public revulsion over their misdeeds is unlikely to fade anytime soon. They were convicted not just in law, but in the court of public opinion too.


Canada’s most notorious

  1. I would say the 40% of respondents who admit they are unfamiliar with Air India flight 182—the worst act of terrorism in Canadian history—is the LEAST shocking figure from this survey.
    We need to stop kidding ourselves. Most Canadians have an absolutely appalling level of self-knowledge. We know vast sums of more information about the United States than Canada—from history to politics to arts and culture. Worst of all, it is done with wholehearted sincerity and naivety.
    Canadians (Macleans writers not exempt) regularly use deeply inclusive language about things that are entirely of the States, while being acutely ignorant and disengaged from all other countries’ matters, including our own.

    • It’s sad how right you are – I really don’t wanna have to admit it about my peers (and sometimes myself, though i do try my best to keep informed), but you totally are right about Canadians being far more familiar with American politics, events and history than they are with their own *sigh*. At least we’re not like the Americans though, who often ONLY know their own history …and often have a distorted view of it anyhow – it’s amazing how many lies are in history books: many will claim, for instance, that Thomas Edison actually invented most his “inventions” (instead of just ripping off Tesla and other brilliant people) – or repeat the same old discredited story of George Washington cutting down that cherry tree.

    • who cares. Canada is irrelevant. ever notice how all the talented canadians go to the states for work? the doctors, actors, bankers etc?

      • Canada has a better economy then the U.S and Canada was also ranked best place in the world to do business, oh should i also mention that Canadians rank having the highest quality/standard of living in the world? All actors from every country go to the states to act, theirs just lots of Canadians because they produce alot of talent…Are you mad their education system is better? justice system? of maybe their healthcare system where they get much better quality care, for free where you have to pay thousands, just to see our doctor? lmao… Ever noticed how ignorant and uneducated we Americans are? Again why would doctors and bankers wanna work in the states when business is much better their in Canada?…

        • Amen

        • Yeah Americans are so uneducated that we have the best colleges in the world. Ivy League schools, Standford, MIT, UC Berkeley. You name it. The ones who can’t get into those schools end up going to McGill or Waterloo. LOL

          • I assume you didn’t go to one of those schools if you cant spell Stanford correctly and most of your schools are filled with immigrants that excell in math.

      • Why are you reading a Canadian article from a Canadian Newspaper? LOL dumb broa*d

        • how do I know what you stupid canucks are doing if i don’t read your dumb news sites.

          • Ill cut you

  2. To this day I am offended the media referred to Air India aircraft filled with Canadians. In fact the plane was filled with East indians returning to their homeland for personal and private reasons. It is further suggested the aircraft was brought down by Terrorists from Canada when in fact the perps were East Indians.I can tell the difference between a Canadian and an east indian. i rest my case

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