TORONTO â€” A close friend of a woman murdered by convicted sex killer Russell Williams says an upcoming stage production based on the intense police interrogation of the former military commander will sensationalize his crimes.
Kirsten Walkom says the grief experienced by Williams’ victims and their loved ones is not meant for entertainment.
The One Little Goat Theatre Company plans to premiere “Smyth/Williams” in March, with an all-female cast that will alternate the roles of Ontario Provincial Police Det. Sgt. Jim Smyth and Williams through the performance.
The Toronto-based company says the play aims to raise awareness of sexual violence against women and calls the production an important part of a wider process of coming to terms with “the horror, rage and grief that such violence has occurred and continues to occur throughout Canada.”
But Walkom says the play makes the victims’ families feel exploited and should be cancelled.
Williams was sentenced to life in prison in October 2010 after pleading guilty to the murders of two women â€” 37-year-old Cpl. Marie-France Comeau and 27-year-old Jessica Lloyd.
The former commander of CFB Trenton, Canada’s largest military airfield, also pleaded guilty to 82 fetish break-and-enters and thefts as well as two sexual assaults.
Walkom was very close to Lloyd and her family. She attended every day of Williams’ trial and provided a victim impact statement in court.
The 32-year-old said Lloyd’s family is disgusted at the planned play.
“We need to stop sensationalizing violence against women and we’re not doing ourselves any favours in pretending this is entertainment,” said Walkom, who spoke on behalf of Lloyd’s family and friends. “I also really feel victims, their families and their friends have the right to express their voice and to have more rights over their stories â€” it’s their narrative.”
Walkom isn’t alone in calling for the play to be stopped.
An online petition, which has garnered more than 350 signatures, argues the production forces families and friends to relive the horror of their loss publicly. It calls for the theatre company to reconsider the play.
Those close to the victims deal with their grief every day, Walkom noted.
“It still hurts,” she said. “I love a good crime drama as much as everybody else but I never could have understood the impact these crimes have on the friends and family, which is far more sobering and traumatic than could ever be projected on a stage.”
The One Little Goat Theatre Company said it has received both messages of support and concern over its planned play, but insisted theatre is “an essential space” where such trauma can be grappled with.
“This is why we urgently feel that, as empathic citizens and artists, it is our responsibility to bear witness to these atrocities, never allowing them to be forgotten, and identifying them as part of a nationwide epidemic of sexual assaults targeting women and girls.”
For Walkom, however, the play is hurtful and insensitive.
“As a woman really closely linked to this story, I feel exploited, not protected,” she said, urging theatre-goers to boycott the production. “In today’s climate I feel we have a real responsibility to protect each other and this isn’t doing that.”
While acknowledging the “exceptional work” done by the OPP in the Williams case, Walkom believes the narrative of the police investigation has a spot in textbooks and educational lectures, not theatre.
The play plans to take most of its lines directly from a transcript of the police interrogation in which Williams confessed his crimes, but it’ll also incorporate dialogue from some of Williams’ victims that was played at his trial.
The production, Walkom argued, would give Williams more attention.
“This man wants to become some sort of a legend….we’re giving him that, why would we ever do that? Why would we let him win.”
Diana Mehta, The Canadian Press