Officials bring down gavel on murderer's art auction
The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 4, 2009 12:49PM EDT
OTTAWA - The prison artwork of a Canadian killer up for auction on an American website is going, going, gone.
Federal officials have stopped Roch Theriault's art from leaving Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick, drying up the supply to MurderAuction.com, which specializes in so-called murderabilia.
Correctional Service of Canada has imposed "restrictions on the dissemination and distribution of artwork and hobbycraft items as well as written materials such as memoirs, bibliographies and-or public communications," says an internal document.
"The restrictions are to reduce public notoriety primarily to prevent negative consequences for victims and their families as well as to decrease risk to personal security in the institution and to facilitate eventual reintegration."
Records related to the controversy were obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
The freeze has had the desired effect: just one Theriault painting remains on MurderAuction.com, an abstract titled "Chutes d'automne," painted in 2003. It had already left the prison before the freeze was imposed.
"Not allowed to send or make anymore art," says the posting by an anonymous Canadian dealer, identified only as Redrum's Autographs.
At least seven pieces had been available for online auction a year ago, most of them believed to have been taken out of Dorchester by a Moncton, N.B.-area woman described as Theriault's current wife.
Auction items have included Theriault's signed poems, and all pieces were of inoffensive subjects, such as flowers.
Theriault is serving a life sentence for a brutal murder committed while he led a bizarre cult at Burnt River, Ont., between 1977 and 1989. He killed his wife through disembowelling, and chopped off the hand of a concubine.
Senior officials in the prison service had been alerted as far back as August 2007 that Theriault's art was appearing on MurderAuction.com, which promotes criminals as celebrities.
But no action was taken until The Canadian Press reported on the controversy last year -- and a senior cabinet minister took notice.
"I would appreciate if you could look into this matter and ensure that such practices are not continued," then Public Safety minister Stockwell Day wrote to then head of corrections, Keith Coulter, the day the story appeared.
"Under no circumstances should any offender be permitted to be affiliated with any individual or group that glorifies their crime."
Day added he was "disturbed ... that an offender, rather than his victims, may be benefiting from proceeds of work which is done in prison."
One of those victims, Gabrielle Lavallee, 59 -- who lost her hand in a vicious attack by Theriault -- also said she was hurt by the online auctions.
"I am victimized by a legal system that seems to give more importance about criminal rights than the victims' right," she said at the time.
The prison service received a legal opinion in the fall of 2007 warning there were legal obstacles to interfering with the auctions.
"Any decision to impose limits on the production, or selling, of artwork by an offender can be grieved and challenged in court," Coulter advised the minister last year.
The heavily censored documents do not spell out the specific legal basis for the current ban, but indicate the new policy applies only to the Theriault case, not to all offenders.
A spokeswoman for the prison service declined to provide any details of restrictions placed on Theriault, citing protections to personal information under the Privacy Act.
Lynn Brunette said only that "measures have been put in place to address this issue."
Material connected with notorious child-killer Clifford Olson continues to appear on the auction website, though it's unclear whether Canadian prison officials have also cut the flow in that case. Olson is serving a life term in a Quebec facility.
Also offered for auction are documents alleged to contain original signatures of infamous dictators, including Saddam Hussein and Benito Mussolini.