Serial Killer Clifford Olson is Dead: Should We Celebrate?

Canadian serial killer Clifford Olson, the “Beast of BC”, is dead. Olson, who killed 11 children and youths between the ages of 9 and 18 years old in the early 1980s, died of cancer on Friday. He was apprehended, tried and found guilty of torturing, sexually assaulting and killing eight girls and three boys. Olson was sentenced in 1982 to 11 concurrent life sentences. He spent the rest of his life in prison until cancer took his life at age 71.

Cancer was Olson’s death penalty

In many U.S. states, Olson would surely have been executed for his crimes. In Canada, where the death penalty was abolished in 1976, that wasn’t an option. There was no doubt about his guilt. He even helped the police to locate the bodies of the victims they had not recovered (for which his wife received a controversial payment of $100,000). Olson never showed any remorse, has since claimed to have committed between 80 and 200 murders, and even admitted that he would likely kill again if released.

While in custody, Olson contracted colon cancer. He was operated on for colon cancer in 2004 and went into remission. In September 2011, the media reported that Olson had terminal cancer and had been transferred from prison to a hospital in Laval, Quebec where he died on September 30, 2011. Cancer was his death penalty.

The Canadian government didn’t need to murder Olson. Ensuring that he spent the remainder of his life in prison, designated as a dangerous offender, was sufficient to protect the public. The fact that the death penalty isn’t even an option in Canada ensures that people like Troy Davis, who may have been innocent, are never executed. We know Olson was guilty of his crimes, but there are other people who are found guilty where doubt still remains. The justice system is not perfect and execution is a very final solution.

Should we celebrate?

The concept of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a life for a life” brings out the vengeful side of justice. A more humanistic approach to justice would be to focus on protecting the public and correcting and rehabilitating offenders. The death penalty holds no value in that type of an approach to justice. The death penalty is only right if we believe, as a society, that the role of justice is vengeance. Capital punishment, like corporal punishment, legitimizes our own violent impulses under law and perpetuates societal acceptance of violence as a way of dealing with problems.

When Osama bin Laden was killed, people across the United States and around the world rejoiced. People gathered outside the White House waving flags, dancing and celebrating. Is this an appropriate way to act when someone is killed, even if that person was responsible for the deaths of many others? An NPR article examined this question and Christine Korsgaard, a Harvard philosophy professor who was quoted extensively in the article ultimately concluded that:

If we have any feeling of victory or triumph in the case, it should be because we have succeeded in disabling him not because he is dead.

That triumph could equally have been achieved by apprehending Bin Laden. Ultimately, for Olson, we should have been celebrating the guilty verdict in 1982, but not his death.

Perhaps relief is the appropriate reaction

Some victims and families of victims feel like the death of offenders bring them peace. Sharon Rosenfeldt, the mother of one of Olson’s victims told the Montreal Gazette:

I feel like I haven’t been able to put him to rest, and maybe our little boy can have some peace now. It is like a grieving session 30 years later, like we have to let go of Daryn all over again.

That is certainly understandable, especially since Olson had a parole hearing every couple of years during which the families had to present their victim impact statements. Those hearings brought out the painful memories again and, although Olson’s chances of being granted parole were virtually non-existent, the remote possibility of it happening must have been gut wrenching for everyone involved.

With Olson in jail, I felt pretty certain that he was no longer a threat to the public. I feel the same way about other killers like Paul Bernardo and Russell Williams (who coincidentally went to college together). There is, of course, the remote chance that they will escape or be paroled, but ultimately I trust the justice system to protect us.

Perhaps instead of celebrating Olson’s death, we can be relieved that he is no longer among us, that he can no longer taunt the public and the families of his victims, and that there is no possibility he can ever harm the public again.

How do you react to the death of mass murderers and serial killers? Do you celebrate?

Related stories:

Instead of Rejoicing at Osama bin Laden’s Death, Let’s Vanquish the Real Enemy

Woman Left Tied Up for 5 Hours After Police Show Up

Troy Davis Executed

Photo credit: Mo Kaiwen on flickr


SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Dear author,
Do you know how ridiculous and inappropriate it is to use the phrase "Cancer was his death penalty."? Many people get diagnosed with and/or die of cancer, but neither does this mean they are guilty of anything nor that they got cancer as a punishment for anything they did in their lives. To equate all victims of cancer to a heinous serial killer with such a statement is highly insensitive and inflammatory. I cannot believe Care2 allows you to write for them or published this article. I realize that you may not have meant to come across this way, but let me bring to your attention that it is the opening section of an only three section article. Your article would have been better served without such an opening section header or closing paragraph sentence.

Sharon Prior-Schranz
Sharon S6 years ago

YES, celebrate his death, a thousand times YES. If yours had been one of the many children brutally murdered by this sick sorry excuse for a human being, MANY more than he was charged with, you wouldn't likely be so lenient, so forgiving. FINALLY those poor souls & their families have closure/.resolution.

Past Member
Else G6 years ago

Well I'm not going to celebrate but I am not sorry that this scum is gone. He may be too as he spend all his prison time in solitary confinement and not with the general prison inmates for his own safety. Many of them had children and vowed to kill him. So solitary confinement for 30 years is was.

Jim Gayden
Jim Gayden6 years ago

We should not celebrate! It is a reflection of how our sick, disturbed society can produce such horrific individuals. There are many cliches that apply here. Society is only as healthy as it's sickest individual. It takes a community to raise a child. Try to be a positive aspect in someone elses life. Treat others as you would like them to treat you. I rarely see people live these examples. It has nothing to do with religion, or faith. It has everything to do with personal responsibility, and accountability. I hear so many parents try to bribe their children when they behave badly. That is reinforcing a negative characteristic. It's called operant conditioning. They are taught that if they behave badly, they will get a reward. I hear so many parents give only yes or no answers, simply because they said so. That is being uncaring, unkind, disrespectful, ignorant, and rude to your children. Show some responsibility, and give them the respect that they deserve. Treat them as a human!

Agneza L.
Agneza Lesdedaj6 years ago

by my opinion he deserved cancer, as painful as possible. On the other side i truly don't understand why we don't do medical testing on these kind of people, instead we perform this horrible procedure on inocent creatures that have no ability to fight. it is not fair that we value a life of such an individual more than a life of another living beings on this planet. A monkey or a mouse has their own life to live and they do not do any damage to anybody, on the other side this man took life of who knows how many humans, and caused so much pain to victims, and their parents and people who cherished them. I can not even imagine the horror in which the parents of the victims are still living.

timothy m.
timothy m6 years ago

Should we celebrate? YES.

The only regrettable thing is it took this piece of garbage that long to die.

Catherine Turley
Catherine Turley6 years ago

i never understand people. all i care about is keeping killers out of society. period. that's it. i guess because they are coherent, we deem them able to decipher between right and wrong. in my opinion, anyone who enjoys killing has a diseased mind and cannot choose not to kill. i pity them.

Sheri Schongold
Sheri Schongold6 years ago

If you can torture, mutilate and cause such suffering to someone that death is preferable, why shouldn't we celebrate the killer's death, especially since he suffered, albeit not enough. When death sentence is carried out, I feel sorry for the families of those killed, etc. They have suffered and will continue to suffer and what do we do, we find the most peaceful and non suffering way for them to die. Why not let them suffer like their victims?! I have no sympathy for them and am glad when they are no longer around to do "their thing."

Gloria H.
Gloria H6 years ago

would I celebrate Hitler's death, had I been alive at that time, yes. Don't people celebrate Guy Fawkes death? Or am I missing something? I would prefer to hand over the offenders to the victims families, to have their nay or yay on the case. Some may forgive, and some may not. To be a serial killer a person would have to be insane and out of control. If I was such a person, I would not want to live with myself and welcome release from the pressure and life.