To forgive, Alexander Pope tells us, is divine.
We place a high value on forgiveness in our politics, religions and in our philosophies. We often regard it as the highest and noblest of acts, particularly when one claims to forgive someone who caused grievous harm.
“Forgive but don’t forget,” is often spoken as though it is a phrase of profound wisdom, as though the fundamental and absurd contradiction contained in those four words were not evident to any thinking person.
And perhaps in our everyday lives, when dealing with small everyday transgressions, forgiveness is necessary. Clinging to rage and hate does little but consume someone from the inside out in most cases.
But when the spectrum of human cruelties is considered in full, when the terrors we are capable of visiting upon one another are meditated upon, the naivety of Pope’s decree becomes all too clear.
There are some lines that should not be crossed and some acts are so terrible, forgiveness or redemption is not, and should not be, part of the equation. There are some insults to basic decency so extreme that to forgive is not a virtue, but an act of willful stupidity.
Unless your name happens to be Tom Mulcair, that is. Then, apparently, there is no crime for which we should not adopt that most prosaic and hollow of injunctions: “Get over it.”
This has not been an easy week for Canadians. For this week they learned that one of the nation’s most notorious and evil citizens, the serial killer Karla Homolka, was volunteering at an elementary school in Montreal.
A woman who, alongside her ex-husband Paul Bernardo, raped and murdered teenaged girls, was given direct access to and responsibility for the children of other people as though her hands were not stained with blood.
It is yet another affront to fundamental notions of justice and decency in a story overflowing with such affronts.
Thanks to the infamous “deal with the devil” made with Homolka to turn on Bernardo, she severed a mere 12 years in prison for the murders of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French. In exchange for testifying against her husband, Homolka was able to plead to the lesser charge of manslaughter, even though by the end, her testimony wasn’t necessary to convict Bernardo because the videotapes of the murders had been found.
That she received so short a sentence and was able to return to society largely unfettered because she served her time was outrageous enough.
But to learn this woman had access to children made a mockery of the very concept of justice. Even the school that gave her this access defended the undefendable.
Anger rippled across the country. It could be read in newspaper columns and heard in the speeches of politicians.
It was an anger tinged with helplessness. The deal was made in 1993. It cannot be undone. All that can be done is limit her access, with extreme prejudice, to the most vulnerable among us, including children. As any farmer will tell you, putting a fox in your hen house ends only in one way.
These visceral emotions were not heard in the statement of federal NDP leader Muclair, however, who seemed to treat the Homolka case as though Canadians were clinging to some petty grudge.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair raised the question of whether it might be time to forgive and move on.
“Everybody is going to have to take their own stock of that and ensure that first and foremost that the security of their kids is taken care of,” Mulcair said on Wednesday.
“Beyond that, it becomes a question of forgiveness,” he added, pointing out that Homolka had “paid her debt” to society.
“If you’re ensuring the safety of the kids, beyond our revulsion at the horror of the crime, is there any room for atonement and forgiveness?” he asked.
Forgiveness? Atonement? For Homolka? Not in this reality.
This is not just insensitivity on the part of a Canadian leader who ought to know better. It rather a reflection of a staggering ignorance.
What are we to forgive exactly, Mr. Mulcair?
Are we to forgive the series of rapes and murders Holmolka willfully took part in? Are the families of the murdered girls supposed to forgive the person who so violently, so callously, ripped their hearts away from them and has never shown a hint of remorse?
Are we to forgive the string of blunders that so insulted the very meaning of justice and are the only reason this woman is allowed to roam free on Canadian streets? Are we to forgive failures of the police and attorneys that permitted and sustained the infamous deal that resulted in Holmoka escaping the justice that was surely her due?
No, Canadians should not find room in their hearts to forgive Homolka. They should not attempt to sell a piece of themselves for such a petty bromide.
Canadians are justly outraged at the killings, the sentencing and its aftermath. They hang onto their rage and they are right to do so. That rage may be the only assurance that justice will not be dismissed when the next serial killer strikes.
It does not matter if Mulcair thinks forgiveness is divine. It does not matter if Jesus is Mulcair’s special friend, or if he thinks he was somehow channelling his inner Gandhi. Asking Canadians to forgive Homolka is to ask them to pour acid into their collective wounds.
If nothing else, the statement proves the nation dodged a bullet when it refused to elect him to lead our government.
Monsters do walk among us, Mr. Mulcair. They are few, but they do exist. And by mistaking your seat in the House of Commons for a pulpit from which to preach your naive morality is to demonstrate just how unworthy you are of the leadership position you once sought.
Forgive the serial killer if you will, Mr. Mulcair. Leave the rest of us out of it.