Troubling Records

Managing and Conserving Mediated Artifacts of Violent Crime

  • Cheryl Regehr
  • Kaitlyn Regehr
  • Arija Birze
  • Wendy Duff


Video records created by perpetrators and witnesses of violent crime are increasingly used as evidence in criminal investigations and court proceedings. When these records include the sexual assault, torture, and murder of individuals, they carry significant power to harm those exposed to them, but most importantly, through repeated viewing, they continue to harm those individuals whose suffering is immortalized therein. Using case study methods, including in-depth interviews with those centrally involved in the case, interviews with criminal justice professionals currently working with video evidence of violent crime, and a review of official documents and media reports, this article examines the tragic Canadian case of serial killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka and the videos they recorded of their crimes. We observe that challenging decisions regarding the handling of video records of violent crime during the investigation process, the viewing of such records in court, and access to them by the public and press during the criminal justice process continue to be areas of concern and contestation, pitting principles of open justice against those of victim dignity and privacy. However, challenges regarding access to video records do not end with a trial and an ultimate verdict of guilt or innocence; rather, decisions continue to be made about the preservation or destruction, the storing and cataloguing, and access to archived material. In examining questions regarding the preservation and continued use of the records, we conclude that a responsible and ethical approach to these challenges is best achieved through what Caswell called a survivor-centred approach. We suggest that this approach should include recognizing the traumatic potentiality of records, providing safety and support to those affected, recognizing the potential of records to produce and perpetuate injustice, respecting the autonomy and decisions of survivors, and accepting and facilitating the right to be forgotten.

Author Biographies

Cheryl Regehr

Cheryl Regehr is the Vice-President and Provost of the University of Toronto, where she is a professor of social work and holds appointments in law and medical sciences. She is also a visiting professor in the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Policy Research Unit in Health and Social Care Workforce at King’s College London. Her scholarly work includes examinations of victims’ experiences in the justice system and of individual, organizational, and societal factors affecting stress and post-traumatic stress responses. She is presently co-investigator on a SSHRC-funded project examining emotional responses in archivists.

Kaitlyn Regehr

Kaitlyn Regehr is an associate professor in digital humanities in the Department of Information Studies, University College London. Her research is focused on cultural impacts of new technology, especially on the experiences of young people, and has informed policy on gender and diversity in advertising for the mayor of London and legislation on image-based abuse. She has also researched online misogyny and the digital “incel” community, providing consultation to the Metropolitan Police and Education Scotland on these themes. She is committed to making academic ideas accessible through broadcasting and interactive new technology.

Arija Birze

Arija Birze is a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on gendered highstress occupations and how individual, social, and organizational factors shape potentially traumatic exposures, stress responses, and physical health outcomes in public safety and criminal justice workers. Her recent work includes studies examining potentially traumatic exposures among 911 police communicators and criminal justice professionals and considers the affective processes involved in both listening to and looking at distressing material.

Wendy Duff

Wendy Duff is a professor and Dean of the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She is currently Principal Investigator for a SSHRCInsight- funded project entitled Emotional Responses to Archives. Her previous research and publications have focused on the information-seeking behaviour of archival users, archival access, social justice, and the evaluation of archives. She has worked on numerous collaborative projects with academics and professional archivists and served on committees of professional associations and advisory boards, including the Planning Committee on Descriptive Standards and the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) Standards Committee.

How to Cite
Regehr, Cheryl, Kaitlyn Regehr, Arija Birze, and Wendy Duff. 2023. “Troubling Records: Managing and Conserving Mediated Artifacts of Violent Crime”. Archivaria 95 (May), 6-40.