This is part of my ongoing series on Canadian Mass Murders. This particular entry is quite lengthy and is broken into the following sections:
- My Preamble
- Case Overview
- The Victims
- Good Parents and Family Life
- The Coroner’s Inquest
- Coroner Uses Inquest as Platform to Promote Gun Control
- Coroner Deeply Critical of Parents
- A Page from the Murderer’s Diary
- Psychiatrist Conclusions
- Inquest Jury’s Recommendations
- No Change to Canada’s Pornography Laws, Says Solicitor General
- “Gun Control” to the Rescue?
- Does Anybody Really Need to Hunt?
- Citizen Forum: Why not license drinkers, as well as guns?
- Letters to the Editor Slam Lurid Reporting
- Reporter Quits Over Coverage Uproar
- Newsman Given a Blast
- “Irresponsible” Reporter Quits Job at Journal
- Ex Ottawa Journal Writer Defends His Actions (and peddles his pet personal agenda)
When I began researching this case, I thought I would spend a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon researching and writing the story.
Within the first hour, I knew my time estimate was not going to hold. In fact, eight hours of research later, I was still finding details I wanted to include.
Many of those details are important to remind gun owners that the onslaught against us is far from new.
A Coroner’s Obsession
What stuck out for me about the Coroner’s Inquest was Chief Coroner Dr. H. B. Cotnam’s all-consuming concern with guns and how to ban them.
He seemed far less concerned with how Ms. Rabot died and how such a murder could be prevented in the future than with how Robert Poulin obtained the sawed-off 12-gauge Winchester pump-action shotgun he used in the school shooting six hours after murdering the poor girl.
Dr. Cotnam sought to impose his personal bias on the entire proceedings. He injected his opinion at every possible opportunity. He used leading questions to help them deliver the answers he wanted. When witnesses did not answer “correctly” he appeared displeased, according to news reports at the time.
Gun Control Agenda Nothing New
For those gun owners who never experienced a world without firearm licenses or gun registration there is a lot in the pages ahead that may surprise and shock you.
There is also much to learn for those of us who’ve been engaged in the battle for freedom for decades.
Two separate school shootings in 1975 brought strident calls for stricter gun controls and complete gun bans.
After Michael Slobodian used two rifles to kill two people and wound eleven others at Brampton Centennial School on May 28th.
Robert Poulin killed one student and injured three others at St. Pius X High School on October 27th using a sawed-off shotgun.
After Slobodian’s attack, the call to ban the sale or possession of all semi-automatic rifles came loudly and often.
After Poulin’s attack, the call to ban all handguns was the inquest jury’s first recommendation, despite the fact Robert Poulin used a shotgun to kill one student and injure three others before killing himself.
This coroner’s jury also called for central storage of all legally-owned firearms and said these facilities should be managed by “approved security agencies.”
There were no calls to ban shotguns, nor were there demands for criminals to store their guns at these central storage sites.
The Kim Rabot inquest jury also recommended licensing of gun owners and registration of all firearms, and a license requirement for buying ammunition.
Most of these controls would not come in for another two decades. Universal registration of firearms would ultimately be repealed because of cost overruns.
Personally, I was surprised to see calls a complete handgun ban after Robert Poulin murdered one and wounded five others with a sawed-off shotgun.
I shouldn’t be surprised, though. The Liberal government applied this same disconnect after an alleged RCMP informant murdered 22 innocent people in Nova Scotia. We still don’t’ know what guns were used by the Nova Scotia killer, yet the government wiped out complete subsets of the shooting sports when they banned nine families of firearms by Order in Council.
It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s government policy.
On the morning of October 27, 1975, 18-year-old Robert Poulin handcuffed his 17-year-old acquaintance Kim Rabot to his bed, raped and sodomized her and, when he was finished, stabbed her nine times.
Then he made a peanut butter sandwich and ate lunch.
When he finished eating, Poulin went back downstairs and set fire to Rabot’s body in a failed attempt to conceal his crimes.
In the afternoon, Robert Poulin took a shotgun to St. Pius X High School in Ottawa, Ontario, wounded four people, including the seriously injured Mark Hough.
“It seemed to me like he wanted to hit the walls,” said Pierre Millette, a student in the class where Poulin started shooting reported the Ottawa Citizen on October 28, 1975.
“With all those people there he certainly could have killed or injured a lot of us if he’d wanted to. It just seemed like he wasn’t interested in doing that.”
“I saw the body in the hall, but I didn’t think it was the person who was doing the shooting. I thought was someone else who had been shot,” Millette would later tell the Coroner’s Inquest.
Student Mike Malone lurched for the door, opened it for a split second, then slammed it shut again.
After Poulin fired four shots into the classroom, he retreated to the hallway and, in one final act of cowardice, Robert Poulin used his last shell to shoot himself in the head.
“Flash. Blood. He fell back,” said Malone. “I just saw his face for a second.”
The door wasn’t open long enough for Malone to see Poulin spread-eagled on the floor, dead from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.
Another unidentified student claimed to witness the suicide as it unfolded.
“He was really shaking as he looked down the barrel,” the student said. “I just saw his head go all over the lockers. When it was over, we started getting up and saw bits of brain all over the place.”
The investigation and subsequent coroner’s inquiry into Poulin’s horrific actions that day revealed a young man with deep psychological problems.
Nobody paid any attention to them until it was far too late.
The coroner’s inquest or, more specifically, the graphic news reporting of it is what horrified readers and flooded both the Ottawa Citizen and Ottawa Journal editors with letters from furious readers. See “Letters to the Editor Slam Reporting Slam Lurid Reporting” at the bottom of this article.
Kim Rabot was raped and murdered in Robert Poulin’s downstairs bedroom. The students wounded in the school shooting were:
- Mark Hough, 18 (Hough would die during brain surgery five weeks later)
- Marc Potvin, 18
- Terry Van Denhandenberg, 18
- Barclay Holdbrook, 16
News reports from 1975 conflict over how many students were wounded at St. Pius X Catholic High School that afternoon.
The individuals named above were specifically identified as being shot. Others students sustained injuries while they tried to escape, but where not injured by gunfire.
Good Parents and Family Life
Stuart Poulin, Robert’s father was a retired Royal Canadian Air Force pilot and teacher. Mary Poulin, his mother, was a nurse who also helped out at a local elementary school. He had two older sisters and one younger sister.
“He never showed any great emotion,” Stuart Poulin would later tell the Coroner’s Inquest. “He was just a quiet, happy kid. Never once did I see him in a fit of rage. I had no reason to believe that he was anything but a normal boy.”
Hugh Poulin, then the Liberal MP for Ottawa Centre, was his uncle.
The Coroner’s Inquest
As far as I’ve been able to determine, the actual report and jury recommendations from the Coroner’s Inquest into the murders committed by Robert Poulin are not available online. I reached out to the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario to see if copies of these documents are available. I will update this section if and when they respond to my request.
Mark Hough Dies
On December 1, 1975 – the same day the inquest into the death of Kim Rabot began – Mark Hough died during brain surgery to repair damage from a shotgun blast to his head on October 28th. This news set a sombre tone for the inquest.
Coroner Uses Inquest as Platform to Promote Gun Control
When Chief Coroner Dr. H. B. Cotnam opened the inquest, his personal bias against firearms ownership was front and center.
“We would be shirking our duties here if we did not introduce serious evidence for the consideration of this jury,” he proclaimed.
“If people have firearms lying around their house, they should turn them in before they become instruments in another violent act,” he added, referring to turning guns in to police through so-called “gun buybacks”.
Cotnam would he would later ask the inquest jury to present “reasonable recommendations” on gun control to prevent future shootings. He defined what he meant by reasonable for them, in case there was any doubt.
He also explained the inquest would also examine psychological and psychiatric services of the Ontario school system as well as how chronic absenteeism and behavioral problems were handled by schools.
Dr. Cotnam then outlined the events of October 27, 1975, as he understood them.
- 8:00am Robert Poulin was observed sitting on the steps of a church four blocks from Kim Rabot’s home. John Rabot, Kim’s younger brother, told the inquest Poulin assured his sister he would drive Kim to school after he showed her “something of importance.”
- 8:30am Mary Poulin, the killer’s mother, heard unusually loud footsteps on the stairs leading to the private entrance of her son’s basement bedroom. She did not investigate the noise.
- 10:00am Mary Poulin checks to see if her son was home. She testified her son said, “Yes, but don’t come in.”
Cotnam explained, “This [Robert Poulin’s response to his mother] was not unusual because he demanded complete privacy in his basement apartment at all times.”
- 11:00am Mary Poulin left the house to supervise the lunch room at a nearby elementary school. Robert sat in the upstairs living room watching a quiz show on television, eating a peanut butter sandwhich when she left.
- 1:30pm Mary Poulin returned to find her home on fire.
- 2:28pm Robert Poulin kicked in the door of classroom # NNN and fired four shots into the crowded classroom.
- 2:30pm Robert Poulin shot himself in the head to end his own life.
On its second day, the Inquest learned Rabot was restrained on the killer’s bed using handcuffs on her arms and ski bindings on her legs. The handcuffs and ski bindings were attached to the four corners of the bed.
Robert Poulin then raped and sodomized her.
Kim Rabot ultimately died of asphyxiation and blood loss. Poulin stabbed the 17-year-old 11 times, then held a plastic dry-cleaning bag over her nose and mouth to suffocate the young woman.
After her death, Poulin poured naptha and gasoline over her body and lit it on fire. The resulting blaze didn’t spread very far due to the lack of air to feed the flames.
Coroner Deeply Critical of Parents
In his own submission to the Inquest’s jury, Chief Coroner Dr. H. B. Cotnam was deeply critical of Stuart and Mary Poulin and took great pains to plant his personal opinions and interpretations of events in the jury’s minds.
Dr. Cotnam’s actions were not those of a man interested in getting to the truth.
His comments throughout the inquiry read like lines out of a really bad remake of Footloose – a movie that would not be made for another nine years.
From the December 4, 1975, Ottawa Journal:
“Although I don’t believe his parents had any ulterior motive by shoving him into the basement and letting him life like a hermit, it is obvious now that he needed more supervision,” Ontario supervising coroner H. B. Cotnam told the inquest’s jury.
“I just don’t think this was acceptable.”
Dr. Cotnam also advocated spot searches on school lockers.
“I’m sure if we did this, we’d find a real arsenal of guns and ammunition together with pornographic books and almost anything else you can think of.”
From the December 4, 1975, Ottawa Citizen:
Ontario supervising coroner H. B. Cotnam, describing the Robert Poulin—Kim Rabot inquest as “one of the most shocking and bizarre cases I’ve been involved in,” said today he did not thing Poulin was raised in an acceptable family home.
In his submission to the jury, Dr. Cotnam referred to Poulin’s move to a basement bedroom with a private entrance, saying, “I find this a bit unusual when it starts at the age of 12.”
He said the family excuse was that he wanted privacy. The parents thought their intentions were good, he added.
Dr. Cotnam suggested it would be a good idea for other parents to check on their children’s activities and the conditions in which they are living.
Speculating on Kim Rabot’s death, the chief coroner said he believed she was rendered unconscious in the garage of the Poulin home at 5 Warrington Avenue, and believed she died early in the day.
“It would be a good thing if she were killed at that time (early morning) so she wouldn’t have to go through the atrocities.”
He speculated that Poulin started the fire in his room, then stayed in the neighbourhood to watch the blaze.
“I feel he was probably somewhere watching it,” he said.
Dr. Cotnam surmised that when he realized Miss Rabot’s body was going to be found, he decided to make his trip to St. Pius X High School so he could “go out in grander style.”
Dr. Cotnam asked the jury to bring back recommendations on pornography, gun control and tightening up of high-school attendance procedures.
And that’s exactly what the jury did.
A Murderer’s Diary
“I knew he was given a diary many years ago, but I didn’t think he kept it up,” Stuart Poulin, the killer’s father, told the inquest on its opening day.
On Day 3 of the Coroner’s Inquest into the murder of Kim Rabot, an entry from Robert Poulin’s diary dated April 7, 1975, was entered into evidence before the inquest. This diary entry was reprinted in its entirety by both the Ottawa Journal and the Ottawa Citizen on December 3, 1975.
A portion of the entry is reproduced below, and it describes fantasies eerily similar to how he raped and murdered Kim Rabot.
For the last couple of weeks I have been fairly depressed, although over the sprint break it wasn’t as bas as when I let all my work back up on me. I have the feeling that I am doing the same thing again this term, but somehow I can’t seem to get myself to do any work.
During my deepest part of my depression a couple of weeks ago I thought of committing suicide, but I don’t’ want to die before I have had the pleasure of fucking some girl.
So I decided to order a model gun from an ad in Gallery magazine (April 1975). With this I was going to threaten a girl in one of the dark streets around here and rape her. I planned to carry my father’s scout knife strapped to the inside of my right leg. If the girl caused me any trouble I would kill her, for I was planning to kill myself anyhow, so I had nothing to lose.
(I was also planning to wear a balaclava so that it would not be necessary to kill her unless she caused some trouble).
After that, I am not sure how soon I would kill myself. I would want for something to cause a deeper depression, and this a reason for killing myself.
The day I would kill myself would be a Sunday, for if I was going to die, the people that made up my family were going to suffer.
At first I thought of using the rifle in my father’s closet to kill them, but then I thought about the fact that death is the true bliss, and I would not want them to be happy, especially to have them enter the kingdom of death at the same time as myself.
So, I decided to set fire to the house, starting by putting gas all over everything, then setting fire to everything from top to the bottom of the house. I would finish in the basement where I was planning on having a fuse leading into the oil drums. I would light this and then shoot myself with the rifle.
I was going to make sure, though, that I burned the place down soon after payday so that they would lose the largest possible amount of money. I was also planning on having all my earthly possessions with me so that they wouldn’t gain one red cent from me.
[..] I found an ad for “Everything” Dolls. These are lifelike dolls of a girl that has everything. She costs $29.95, and I broke myself ordering her. Now I no longer think that I will have to rape a girl, and am unsure as to whether or not I will still commit suicide.
I have a half-hatched idea about using the gun to rob people at night. My excuse for going out at night would be going to the Cartier Square Drill Hall. For the robberies I would not even have to skill going to the Hall, for I could quickly rob someone after, on the way home.
So long for now,
Both parents were stunned to learn how much their own son hated them.
Dr. John Atcheson and Dr. Gordon Warme were the specialists from the Clarke Institute who investigated Robert Poulin’s mental state. They testified to their conclusions on the last day of the inquest.
“Robert Poulin was caught up with increasingly intense sexual fantasy as reflected in his diary, wherein he described murder, rape and arson. This was also demonstrated in his accumulation of pornographic literature and pornographic devices.”
It is clear that there was a mounting pressure to translate these fantasies into action. Again and again Robert gave evidence of his struggle against complete withdrawal.”
“Many of his thoughts as documented in his diary and other writings concerned girls at school and, failing to make contact with them he desperately sought real contacts by way of a newspaper advertisement.”
They both testified there was “no way” Robert Poulin’s actions could have been predicted, even though he made several pathetic but indirect pleas for help.
They said that over the course of the last months of his life, Robert Poulin suffered from a personality disorder of the schizoid type, causing him to gradually lose all control over his “sadistic and sexually perverse fantasies and urges.”
“It was almost as if he were two people at this time,” Dr. Atcheson said.
They said his pleas for help included an entry in his diary where he complained about his shyness and fear of women, and a personal ad he placed in the Ottawa Journal seeking companionship.
“Don’t you think if the father and mother had paid a little more attention to him they might have seen abnormal characteristics developing?” Dr. Cotnam asked in one of his many attempts to insert his opinions into the record.
“It was absolutely impossible to identify any behavior on the part of the parents that specifically caused this event,” Dr. Atcheson replied.
Both doctors absolved Stuart and Mary Poulin of any responsibility for their son’s deviant character, saying it could have started developing as soon as 18 months after he was born.
The Inquest Jury’s Recommendations
On Friday, December 5, 1975, the inquest’s jury returned a series of very general recommendations on gun control, pornography and school attendance, just as the Chief Coroner asked them to earlier in the proceedings.
The jury first proposed a total ban on handguns.
The fact a shotgun was used to commit these crimes seemed entirely lost on them.
Another series of recommendations anticipating that handguns would probably not be banned suggested a licensing system and registration for all firearms, including rifles and shotguns.
Under this proposed licencing scheme, firearm purchasers would not be permitted to take possession of their guns until a 30-day “cooling off period” elapsed.
The proposed firearms license would contain a photograph of the licensed individual, their signature and social insurance number, and this licence would be required to purchase ammunition as well.
Illegal possession of firearms should be punished by a mandatory minimum sentence of at least two years, they said, and mandatory minimum sentence of five years should be applied to anyone who uses a firearm in the commission of a crime.
When firearms are not in use, the inquest jury recommended they be stored in a central depository run by “approved security agencies.”
The Ottawa Citizen reported the jury also recommended “pornography be redefined as ‘anything showing or representing the genital parts of the human body’ and be banned in Ontario.”
“Questioned later, jury foreman Andrew Deshardins admitted this broad definition would include many public statues and all medical textbooks.”
Lastly, the jury wanted to censor news reporting, stating “the reporting of suggestive, explicit details is dangerous.”
“Why should people know the complete facts?” jury foreman Andrew Deshardins asked.
The jury’s report flatly stated “restrictions on the rights of individuals may well be the price we have to pay for civilization.”
No Change to Canada’s Pornography Laws, Says Solicitor General
The federal government has no plans to rewrite the laws on pornography in response to the recommendation made by the inquest jury into the rape and murder of 17-year-old Kim Rabot, said Solicitor General Warren Allmand.
In addition, Allmand said the RCMP have no power to restrict the distribution of pornography in Canada.
“Gun Control” to the Rescue?
The issue of gun control became central to the case in the mind of the Chief Coroner, Dr. Cotnam.
Robert Poulin legally purchased the 12-gauge shotgun he used to shoot up the school just four days before he committed his heinous crimes, so Dr. Cotnam wanted gun control to be central to the jury’s recommendations.
After a series of witnesses advocated for tighter gun control restrictions, Dr. Cotnam all but begged an Ottawa police constable to do the same.
“Can you think of any measures which might prevent this type of incident in the future?” the coroner asked.
Constable Pearce refused to play into the Coroner’s agenda, however.
“It is my opinion that in this case gun control is secondary,” Pearce replied. “It is obvious he [Robert Poulin] was in very bad need of psychiatric help. I don’t honestly feel the issue of gun control even enters into it.”
This was not the response Dr. Cotnam wanted to hear.
Does Anybody Really Need to Hunt?
In his closing arguments to the Kim Rabot Coroner’s Inquest, Crown attorney Edward Ormston asked three simple questions.
“What’s wrong with the total abolition of guns?”
“Does anybody really have to hunt anymore?”
“What’s the purpose of gun clubs and target shooting?”
In Bob Scammell’s column Sportsman’s Luck, the columnist published a brilliant response to those insipid questions in the December 19, 1975 edition of the Red Deer Advocate.
“When someone in Easter Canada can ask questions that stupid in public and get away with it, one begins to understand how society is so denatured that it produces monsters like Robert Poulin.”
Well said, Mr. Scammell.
Citizen Forum: Why not license drinkers, as well as guns?
by Kenneth E. Hall
Ottawa Citizen | Friday, December 12, 1975
Kenneth Hall is the minister of a non-denominational church in Ottawa
Society, like most individuals, is blind to its own worst faults. In this state, guilt and anguish over the deepest sources of malaise are vented on the significant but minor issues. The present debate over gun control is a good example.
We are all frightened and horrified by physical violence. The tragedies that occurred in Brampton and Ottawa high schools bring out a visceral reaction of anger, sorrow and frustration. Whatever it takes, we want to eliminate the possibility of repetition — hence, gun control.
Let’s have gun control if it will help. But will it?
According to authorities in Toronto and Ottawa, gun registration will not work because most firearms involved in violence are used by legitimate owners or by those outside the law. Instead, a program of education, background surveys, and surveys of purpose of use will be instituted as well as severe judicial measures against offenders.
The same officials admit that none of the measures described would have influenced the occurrences in Brampton or Ottawa.
Nonetheless, controls are proposed as a political answer to public indignation and we, the public, are likely to be satisfied with that. Our collective guilt and anguish will be vented in a non-effective way and we can then through up our hands and say, “What more can we do?”.
The psychiatrists called upon for comment add little in the way of an answer. The human psyche is too intricate and knowledge of it too rudimentary to provide answers to specific acts of behavior, they say.
In their opinion, suppressed aggression and sexuality are seldom noticed until they flare up in some anti-social way. If this is the case, the present gun legislation will not significantly affect the problem.
What will it do? It will certainly add more bureaucracy and government interference in the private lives of citizens. It will give the courts more case work. It will provide penalties to a negligent unlicensed minority who are caught possessing or using a gun in harmless ways; but the penalty will be fore negligence of licensing, not dangerous use.
As an occasional hunter — and a non-drinker — I have an alternative which will save a great number of lives. Since most incidents of violence and fatal accidents involve people who are intoxicated, and since such incidents occur far more frequently and take a vastly higher number of lives than any other kind, let us license those who use alcoholic beverages.
A person wishing to purchase, make or use the drug would be required to state his purpose for use and obtain the written support of two responsible people who would testify to the individual’s normal behavior and mental stability.
It would be required that all drinkers attend a public safety course given by the Alcohol and Drug Research Foundation. In addition, anyone committing a crime while intoxicated would automatically receive a two-year prison term.
Anyone violating the law or becoming a public nuisance through alcohol abuse would have his license to purchase or use liquor removed. It would also be an offence to supply liquor to an unlicensed person.
As is suggested with firearms, the police would have the power to remove liquor from residences where there was reason to believe the it’s presence would constitute a danger to individuals present or to the public.
Since in many places gun license money largely goes to nature conservation; liquor license and tax money would go to human conservation and administrative expenses.
If it is wrong to be involved in the manufacture of chemicals used for war in Vietnam, surely it must be wrong to be involved wit the manufacture of a drug that causes such untold damage to Canadian Society.
If guns as guns are dangerous, so is alcohol as alcohol.
If you think the gun lobby is strong, wait until you see the liquor lobby resist such controls. The sad thing is that liquor controls would do a hundred times more good!
Here is society’s blindness. If my children were shot in the sanctuary of their school, all society would cry out and the offender punished or treated; but, if our whole family of six is wiped out tomorrow by a drunk driving a car, we’ll get half a column of newsprint and the drunk, if he lives, will go untreated and unpunished.
And if the idea of punishment is unacceptable to society, then it must accept deterrence before the fact, because sure as taxes, it’s no good after!
Letters to the Editor Slam Lurid Reporting
I was surprised to see so many Letters to the Editor of both the Ottawa Citizen and the Ottawa Journal denouncing the papers’ coverage of Robert Poulin murder spree and inquiry.
A sample of those letters are below.
Ottawa Journal, December 10, 1975
Sirs: After reading the glaring headline Poulin diary: “My family must suffer” (Journal, Dec. 3), I was so upset and angry I felt compelled to speak up.
In my opinion, quoting a section of Robert Poulin’s diary is a serious invasion of privacy. I can appreciate that this diary must be used in the inquest to get to the bottom of this tragic affair, but for the media to reveal in detail the private thoughts and concerns of this boy, with no feeling for his family, is heartless.
Surely they have enough heartache without this kind of sensationalism.
Is there no compassion anymore?
Yesterday we saw two policemen carrying out the charred bed — binding and all — where Kim’s body was found. Do we really need to see this? What about the feelings of her distressed family?
It is no wonder that some of our young people are confused and even sick. Look at the examples we show them.
Give us only the essential facts in the news and let us not pry.
This issue went into the garbage so that my teenagers wouldn’t read it.
Ottawa Citizen, December 13, 1975
Editor, Citizen: The Citizen reporting of the Robert Poulin inquest Dec. 3 is the most disgusting type of irresponsible reporting that my family has every witnessed in daily family newspapers.
Your newspaper, and particularly those people responsible for editing, create a profound and long-lasting impression on their readers, particularly their younger readers.
As parents of teenage children, we realize teenagers are most impressionable. Parents have a definite responsibility to edit the type of literature to which their family is exposed, and this is where the papers shirk their responsibility in this age of permissiveness.
If you cannot control this type of sadistic reporting by your staff, you can at least control the printed word. The type of filthy, disgusting language allowed by you in your paper on Dec. 3 is inexcusable.
It is contended that the reporting of the Brampton affair was a factor on this latest tragedy. If this is so, Mr. Editor, imagine what your action could let loose? Can your conscience carry the consequences of this gutter reporting, or does The Citizen, or you, have any conscience?
Ottawa Journal, December 13, 1975
Sensational News Coverage Serves No Useful Purpose
Sirs: Ottawa hich school teachers, members of District 26, OSSTF, deplore the lurid coverage given by your newspaper to the recent tragic events atn St. Pious hich school, an to the coronoer’s inquest.
We believe that this type of reporting serves no useful purpose, and in fact makes it extremely difficult to help students who are already troubled.
Furthermore, it is our opinion that the newspapers, and the radio, and the television stations are totally inaccurate in their belief that the public requires explicit and sensational coverage of such a tragedy.
Lawrence J. Roche
President, District 26
Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 1975
Editor, Citizen: In reply to Russell Mills’ column of December 6, I agree that the press has a responsibility to report the evidence as completely and accurately as possible. I also realize that this may prevent future crimes, but what about the crimes provoked by the lurid details of your description?
How many people living with such fantasies, now realize that they can come true as they did for Rob Pouline? From your description, they certainly would have a good idea of how to proceed.
For example, you stated that the young girl was raped and this had to be reported. Yes, I agree, and I do thing that everyone should be aware of these crimes, even our children.
But will we now have to censor our newspaper from our children? I am not referring to the four letter word Mr. Mills so lengthily justified, or to the facts from the diary, which were, after all, just fantasy, but to your very detailed description of how the young girl was tied up, even undressed and raped.
I have lost a lot of respect for your newspaper.
Ottawa Citizen, December 17, 1975
Editor, Citizen: I wish to criticize your newspaper for what I consider to be cheap, inconsiderate, sensationalistic journalism, extremely unworthy of one of Ottawa’s major newspapers.
Your coverage of the Poulin murders has produced an all-time low in lack of respect for the dignity of the individual, even in death.
Your invasion of Poulin’s personal life is merciless and the information you publish should be confined to the courtroom.
I feel the amount of coverage you gave this story is ridiculous. You seem to have no mercy for Poulin’s parents or the parents of the boy who recently died as a result of the incident — not to mention the parents of the girl who was so viciously killed. You seemed to delight in describing that incident in lurid detail.
For the parents’ sakes why don’t you use the discretionary powers which I’m sure you must possess and play down the facts? I’m sure you won’t be holding back anything that anybody wants to know.
Terence J. McKibbin
Reporter Quits Over Coverage Uproar
The following pieces from news at the time are included to give two sides to the sub-story about Brian Gory’s “insensitive” reporting style. Gory claims he was just doing his job, while his editors and the supervising coroner give quite different views.
I leave it to you to who was telling the truth, if anyone.
Newsman Given a Blast
Ottawa Citizen | Thursday, December 4, 1975
Ontario supervising coroner H. B. Cotnam delivered a scathing attack today on a member of the news media for his actions at the Kim Rabot-Robert Poulin inquest.
Dr. Cotnam accused Ottawa Journal reporter Brian Gory of irresponsibility and said: “He is not here now. He is probably up on the mat somewhere, where he should be.”
Dr. Cotnam said Mr. Gory attempted to speak to jury members, ignoring a previous warning by the coroner. He approached assistant Crown attorney Ted Ormston with a note asking a question and Mr. Ormston threw it back at him.
He said Mr. Gory asked Stuart Poulin, father of the dead youth, some questions that were not very tactful.
“If I were Mr. Poulin I would have kicked him in the shin,” the chief coroner said.
He said Mr. Gory had a great deal of audacity and should be taken to task for his actions.
“Irresponsible” Reporter Quits Job at Journal
Ottawa Citizen | Tuesday, December 9, 1975
Reporter Brian Gory has left his job with the Ottawa Journal following criticism of his actions at the Kim Rabot-Robert Poulin inquest last week.
Journal managing editor Dave Humphreys said today he and city editor Gordon Eastwood met Monday with Mr. Gory and the reporter decided to resign.
Ontario’s chief coroner, Dr. H. B. Cotnam, publicly criticized Mr. Gory as “irresponsible” last Thursday for questioning jurors and for asking Robert Poulin’s father questions that “were not very tactful.”
Mr. Gory later publicly apologized to Dr. Cotnam and said he had not intended to disrupt the inquest. He admitted he should not have questioned the jurors, but said he “had the best intentions to ferret out the truth.”
Mr. Humphreys said last week Mr. Gory was not representing the newspaper at the inquest and was attending out of personal interest only.
The inquest was investigating the rape-murder of 17-year-old Kim Rabot and the death of Robert Poulin, 18, who killed himself after shooting six other students, one fatally, at St. Pius X High School October 27th.
Ex Ottawa Journal Writer Defends His Actions (and peddles his pet personal agenda)
Ottawa Citizen | Saturday, December 13, 1975
Editor, Citizen: None of your stories discussing my “irresponsible” actions on the Poulin-Rabot inquest bothered to mention that I sought — and got — permission from assistant Crown attorney Ted Ormston to talk to jurors about their occupations. I would not have approached them without permission from an officer of the court.
One other thing. A question I was earnestly trying to get answered by witnesses (but was rebuffed by the coroner who called it an “unusual question”) was this:
Would this horrible rape-murder-shooting have occurred if Robert Poulin had had ready access to an understanding woman? Maybe this is grounds for legalized prostitution?
And the schools. Is keeping track of absenteeism really the answer? Or should schools be more alert to the strong secual drive in high school students and frankly discuss ways to cope?
Maybe Mayor Greenberg’s crackdown on rub parlors is only serving to increase frustration in certain males in the city and may lead to more hostility, domestic bickering and even violence.
In my opinion, the inquest was sadly lacking in original thinking and was narrowly orchestrated by the coroner to suit his own ideas on gun control, pornography and absenteeism.
He voiced approval for witnesses who agreed with his thinking and scorned those who didn’t. (He said to the dealer who sold Robert the handcuffs, “You’d sell anything to make a buck, eh?”)
On one hand, he raps the knuckles of a reporter for not observing proper court decorum. Yet he makes comments himself which would be sufficient grounds for a “mistrial” if this were a criminal court.