Covering the Paul Bernardo trial the “toughest story” ever, says CITY News broadcaster Tom Hayes

by Ali Dar

Tom Hayes, Ali Dar, Carleigh O’Connell and Akihiko Tse after interview by Centennial College journalism students

Almost 17 years have passed and parts of southern Ontario still remember the trial of Paul Bernardo like it happened yesterday.

The chilling testimony from Karla Homolka, the disturbing photos of victims, and videos of sexual assaults all took its toll on the Canadian legal system, the public, and most of all, the media.

During an interview at Centennial College’s East York campus on April 19, City TV reporter Tom Hayes describes the trial as “the toughest story” he’s ever covered.

“It was very tough to cover because I have two small girls myself, and I sat through the whole thing. And I heard everything.”

Hayes says that the Bernardo story was so difficult because of the evidence presented during the trial.

“Everything was on tape, everything that happened to those poor girls was on tape, and they played it all in court and we went through it all, we heard it all,” Hayes said as he looked towards the students in the crowd.

Answering a question regarding the impact the case, Hayes spoke strongly about the trial’s importance in Canada and what it meant to the media.

“It was a turning point, I believe, in this news industry. I would bet that we will never see another story that will lead the six o’clock newscast for three straight months in a row. It will never happen again,” Hayes said before explaining his statement.

“There will be worse stories, some would argue that there have been. It was a real shocking point for our city and our country and for journalists as well.”

One student asked Hayes, what exactly made the story so impactful and he answered that a lot of it had to do with the individual stories of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffey. He said that their tragedies were so gripping that it added to crimes of rape, torture and murder.

The award winning journalist spoke about his direct involvement with the case as many of the assaults took place near his residence at the time in Scarborough.

He shared a story about an incident that occurred during the search for Bernardo, who was then known as the Scarborough rapist. Hayes recalled a time that he had been pulled out of a Subway sandwich shop by two officers because he fit the description of the rapist, a white male with blonde hair.

He told those in attendance, all of them journalism students, about the affect it had in the area of Scarborough.

“It really changed the neighbourhood. People were on edge, women were afraid to take the TTC because a lot of his attacks happened off the TTC and it really had an effect on the community.”

Hayes not only remembered the affect it had to the public, but affects it had on many members of the media emotionally.

He stated that many reporters needed counselling to deal with the events of the case, before joking that his peers at CTV weren’t given access to counsellors because of their shrinking budget.

“I actually remember my mother saying ‘Don’t take it home’ because it was so tough to get through,”  Hayes said before warning the journalism students that situations like these aren’t unique. “This is the life of a journalist. You put yourself on the front line.”

During the interview, Hayes was commended for his actions that led to the formulation of the “Hayes Amendment”.

The amendment was created by the Ontario government after a series of investigative reports by Hayes and CTV regarding the date rape drug and its use in bars.

Prior to the amendment, people were not allowed to take their drinks to the washroom, instead having to leave them unprotected at the bar or at their table.

After its creation, Ontario bars were allowed to apply to have their liquor license extended to the washroom areas allowing patrons to protect their drinks.

“That’s probably my proudest work because the government changed the law and they called it the Hayes Amendment, which was great of them because they didn’t have to do that.”

When asked what could be done to improve the amendment, Hayes answered by saying the need to build awareness about the amendment and educating the public.

He also said that there eventually comes a point when everyone has to take responsibility for their actions.

“I think the law is pretty sound, but I don’t think you can ever make a law against stupid. It’s always your responsibility to look after your drink.”

A recent graduate of the University of Toronto Scarborough in sociology, Hayes started out as an anchor for Scarborough community television before joining CKVR in Barrie. He joined CTV in 1988 and left in 2011, joining City TV.

In addition, to the Bernardo case, Hayes puts the 1992 and 1993 World Series wins by the Blue Jays  a top his most memorable stories because of how it captured the entire country.