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Paula Todd
Paula Todd

Paula Todd

Evil must be shown to be known Add to ...

As a young student, I refused to watch images of Holocaust victims clinging to barbed wire in Nazi concentration camps. I turned my back to the projection screen, telling my teacher, "I know what happened. I don't need to see it."

That wasn't the real reason, of course. It just hurt too much. To look into the desperate eyes and emaciated faces of those enduring slow murder. My heart fractured at the agony, the unfathomable loss, the depravity. To stop the pain, I stopped the pictures.

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We feel the same about Russell Williams's brutal campaign against the women of Ontario. Murder, rape, torture, psychological warfare, violation of intimacy - firing off all of his bodily fluids at anything that makes a woman safe.

It is awful stuff. What a man can do to a woman, or a military officer to those he's trained and paid to protect. How a crime spree of notorious proportions can go unchecked.

It is no surprise, then, that we want to shun the photos, the video, the tweets, the testimony. Some reporters simply stopped reporting, even though they were among the few permitted a seat in the court to do just that. They'd met their limit, as many citizens have, turning off the TV, pushing aside the newspaper.

But Mr. Justice Robert Scott's decision to open his court to technology, so not just a privileged few could witness justice, but the entire world, has nothing to do with our sensitivities. It is about fighting back.

Justice festers in private, but flourishes in public. Why? Because transparency protects the innocent and exposes the guilty. So that when Mr. Williams is eligible for parole, there will be a full, sworn and unassailable record of the crimes for which he should stay in prison forever.

But the need to know all of the truth is not about legal technicalities alone. Full disclosure is the antidote to disbelief - that such crimes cannot happen, that they could never go undetected, that a leader with an unblemished record would commit them. Just look at the falsehoods Holocaust deniers have managed to spread - even in the face of photographs and eyewitness accounts.

Yet, does the public need to see a woman beg for her life? Of course, we want to deny the reality. But isn't the real answer imbedded in our reaction - in our horror, outrage, determination - and the fact that we didn't feel these emotions with the same intensity before we knew the evidence?

It is this very anger that arms us to confront those who brutalize women, or fail to protect them. Marie-France Comeau and Jessica Lloyd fought, strategized and begged to save their lives. We best honour their courage if we know what they suffered - and then bloody well do something about it. They could not turn away from terror, why should we?

When I refused to watch Nazi torture, I wasn't striking a blow for the dignity of the captured, or even for our civility. I was protecting myself. I valued my comfort more than their pain. That is the selfishness behind censorship. No, the families of the beloved women do not need to endure the details of their unbearable loss. They will never forget. But we - as strangers - must do what they cannot: We must bear witness to the universal wrong.

In this way, we are not prurient but powerful advocates for a safer community. Yes, the more candid the material, the more fodder available for the social terrorists who parade it for the equally immature or cruel. But do we allow the worst among us to set the standards for the best?

That some cannot find the strength to face the evidence is understood. But those of us who can, or who call ourselves journalists and truth-seekers, have an obligation to watch, record and preserve.

Otherwise, we will not remember what we have not known.

And we will not fight against what we cannot remember.

Paula Todd is a lawyer, CTV W5 investigative journalist and member of the board of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.

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