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Colonel Russell Williams (R), former Commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, is escorted from Belleville court October 19, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)
Colonel Russell Williams (R), former Commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton, is escorted from Belleville court October 19, 2010. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

The Crown needed to disclose the colonel's crimes Add to ...

The long, detailed disclosure of Colonel Russell Williams's extraordinary crimes is justifiable as showing what human nature is sometimes capable of - even in the absence of social deprivation. On the contrary, Col. Williams was honoured and successful.

There was no apparent legal necessity for such a full narrative. After any agreement between the prosecution and defence on a guilty plea, an agreed statement of facts is needed, in order to set out the facts that add up to the crime, and to help the judge to pass a suitable sentence. But in the Williams case, the two first-degree murders could have been quite briefly established. As for the sentence, life imprisonment without parole for at least 25 years is mandatory.

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The authorities may have chosen in this trial to prevent the chaos that followed futile attempts to limit information in the comparably gruesome Bernardo-Homolka case in the 1990s, but damage control is an inadequate explanation for three days' worth of disclosure.

It is hard to find Col. Williams (soon, mercifully, to be just Mr. Williams) to be typical of anything. Most psychopathic killers are otherwise "losers." Moreover, immature pranks, and minor offences such as trespassing, do not normally pave the way to extremes of depravity.

Yet when Robert Morrison, the Crown attorney, spoke of Col. Williams's "gradually escalating risk-taking," a humanly intelligible desire for adventure came into view, which, combined with what may once have seemed to be only ludicrous peccadilloes, developed into monstrosity. He was clearly a thrill-seeker; his success at passing through other people's open windows and unlocked doors tempted him to up the ante again and again, so that he ended up with torture and murder. He would surely not have stopped until he was caught.

Such criminals are often spoken of as simply lacking in conscience, but their actions go far beyond a mere neutrality between good and evil. Russell Williams was not missing some part of his brain; he actively pursued the violation of his victims, knowing what he did was terribly wrong.

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