When I first heard that Clifford Olson was dying, a flood of thoughts and emotions went through my head.
Olson is the notorious child-killer whose spree of terror is unprecedented in Canada. He was randomly snatching kids off the street, sexually assaulting and killing them, and doing so with what seemed complete disregard for the public, police and, most of all, the children and their families.
I never met Olson. Nor did I cover any court proceedings that he was involved in. My small part was as a community newspaper reporter for The Surrey Leader. Surrey was Olson’s base.
He kidnapped numerous young people off the street in Surrey, and the fear in the community was widespread. While none were taken from Langley, Olson operated in numerous Lower Mainland communities. It was only by good fortune that Langley families escaped the horror of having a child become one of his victims.
As noted by several media outlets, Olson’s reign of terror was the foundation for the victims’ rights movement in Canada. It is surprising that it took a killing spree of that magnitude (he confessed to killing 11 children and teens, and likely killed others) to mobilize victims. There is no doubt his actions energized victims and woke up enough politicians and people within the justice system to the complete absence of consideration of victims in the judicial process.
Olson has thumbed his nose at victims on numerous occasions since he went off to prison 30 years ago. He has written them letters, he applied for early release under the “faint hope” clause (which has since been repealed) and mused about applying for parole.
In recent years, word that he was drawing a government pension while in jail produced another outcry and prompted a change in legislation as well.
It was ironic that the news about Olson came out on the day when the U.S. state of Georgia executed Troy Davis, who was convicted of killing a security guard 22 years ago. He filed numerous appeals and insisted that he did not do it. His case prompted an outpouring of support, and also promoted numerous witnesses to change their stories. His case was taken up by the Pope, former president Jimmy Carter and Amnesty International
Yet he finally ran out of options, and was executed late Wednesday.
While many Canadians want a reinstatement of the death penalty, I am not among them. There are too many cases of faulty convictions to use it as a final punishment, in my view.
Nonetheless, a case like Olson’s does seem pretty clear-cut. He confessed to the crimes, and his obvious loathing of his victims ensures that he will go down in Canadian history as one of the worst criminals ever.
There is a certain poetic justice about the fact that he is dying in prison of cancer. He has been in prison for 30 years and was never able to get out, unlike many killers. His incarceration was permanent.
Olson thumbed his nose at victims and society for years. Very soon, he will no longer be able to do so.