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Luka Magnotta arrives at Montreal’s Mirabel Airport. (Handout from Montreal Police)
Luka Magnotta arrives at Montreal’s Mirabel Airport. (Handout from Montreal Police)

Alleged killer Luka Rocco Magnotta named Newsmaker of the Year in poll Add to ...

Stephen Harper did not get any votes in what is believed to be the first time in the last two decades a sitting prime minister has been shut out in the survey.

Mr. Magnotta was elected Newsmaker of the Year even though he didn’t receive a single vote from a newsroom in Quebec, where much of the story was anchored.

Quebec had several big news stories in 2012, including the months-long student protests, the explosive Charbonneau Commission looking into corruption, and the shooting only metres away from Pauline Marois on the night she returned the Parti Québécois to power.

“As news goes there were certainly far more significant issues that touched our nation,” Doyle MacKinnon, the Lethbridge Herald’s managing editor, said in explaining why he chose Mr. Magnotta.

MacKinnon said it’s a sad commentary that men such as Mr. Magnotta and former colonel Russell Williams become household names while many Canadians don’t know who the recently canonized Kateri Tekakwitha is.

“But the fact is,” he said, ”the truly reviled invariably make bigger news than the moderately revered.“

Since the first Newsmaker of the Year poll back in 1946, politicians, diplomats and sports heroes have dominated the selection list — including figures such as John Diefenbaker, Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Terry Fox.

Very few nominees have earned the most votes out of infamy.

Among the rare exceptions are 1965 selection Lucien Rivard, a convict who pulled off a spectacular prison escape, and colonel-turned-killer Williams in 2010.

Even high-profile Canadian killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka — the latter with whom Mr. Magnotta reportedly had an obsession — did not reach the top of the list.

Other notable criminals who weren’t voted Newsmaker of the Year include serial killer Robert Pickton, serial child killer Clifford Olson and Marc Lepine, the gunman who killed 14 women in Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique massacre.

So why Mr. Magnotta?

One media-studies expert believes the alleged crime had it all from a journalistic and public-interest perspective.

“It had sex, it had murder, it had an ostensibly good-looking [alleged] villain, it had intrigue, it had social media, it had international elements,” said Romayne Smith Fullerton, an associate professor at the University of Western Ontario.

“I can’t think of any of the top-10 news criteria that it would have been lacking, so I can understand why it would have been an exciting story to tell... and a really riveting story for people to want to follow.”

But she warned that while people have the right to know about crimes in their communities, overly intense news coverage can legitimize somebody’s claim to fame.

“It’s a kind of a notoriety that some people, like Magnotta, might actually get a pretty big kick out of,” Prof. Fullerton said.

She noted that dramatic media portrayals of suspects also run the risk of dismissing the accused as freaks.

Fullerton said media outlets have options that might better serve the public, such as reminding communities the suspect is indeed a product of their society and examining how services for issues like mental health can be improved.

Magnotta’s name is expected to re-emerge in the public sphere in the coming weeks.

Crown and defence lawyers will get together Jan. 9 to discuss the case, while a two-week preliminary hearing, where part of the evidence against him will be heard, is set to begin in mid-March.

Magnotta has opted for a trial in front of a jury and his lawyer has not requested a psychiatric evaluation.

Along with the murder charge, Magnotta pleaded not guilty to counts of defiling Lin’s corpse, harassing Harper and some MPs, and publishing and mailing obscene material.

His name first came to the public’s attention in the days after Lin’s torso was found on May 29. A janitor found the body part locked in a suitcase in the driveway behind the seedy apartment building where Magnotta lived.

That same day, one of Lin’s hands and one of his feet were discovered after being mailed in parcels to the offices of Conservatives and Liberals in Ottawa.

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