Notorious serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo will stay in a medium-security prison as the decision to transfer one of Canada’s most infamous murderers was “sound,” the head of Correctional Service Canada says.
Anne Kelly, commissioner of Correctional Service Canada, presented the results of a review into the controversial prison transfer Thursday, which found that while CSC followed protocol, it must strengthen how it communicates with victims’ families when moving high-profile criminals.
“The review committee concluded that the decisions to reclassify Paul Bernardo to medium and transfer him to La Macaza were sound, and followed all applicable laws and policies,” Kelly said in a statement.
“I want to be clear that, at any point, an inmate can be returned to a higher security level, if deemed necessary, to ensure the safety of the public or our institutions.”
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Bernardo’s transfer to the Quebec prison in May set off a firestorm across the country, and engulfed the Liberal government in controversy.
Bernardo, 58, has been serving a life sentence for the kidnappings, tortures and murders of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in the early 1990s. He and his then-wife Karla Homolka also killed her younger sister, Tammy Homolka.
Bernardo had been living out his sentence in maximum-security prisons until now. CSC launched a review of the decision in June amid public outcry.
Bernardo initiated review process
According to that review, Bernardo applied for transfer to La Macaza in November 2022. He had applied earlier in the year to move to Bath Institution in Ontario, but was rejected. If Bernardo was to be moved to a medium-security prison, he would have to be placed “at a more structured medium security environment with greater restrictions on offender movement within the institution,” the review found.
“It was noted that the offender, following denial of his application to transfer to Bath Institution earlier in 2022, had subsequently ‘fully integrated with his range,’ with ‘no noted security concerns with his integration.’ Given that his lack of integration was ‘largely the reason for his transfer denial,’ the CMT (case management team) ‘agreed to review his transfer request to La Macaza Institution,’” the review indicated.
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La Macaza was identified by Bernardo’s CMT to be compatible with his profile, as the institution can accommodate high-profile offenders as well as offenders serving time for sexual offences.
“It was noted that La Macaza Institution would not provide Bernardo with any increased access to the community, as he would be housed behind a secure, controlled perimeter and his movements and associations would be regulated and monitored,” the review stated.
“Additionally, it was noted, La Macaza offers programming suited to Bernardo’s program needs, specifically the Sex Offender Maintenance Program.”
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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre told reporters at a brief press conference in Toronto on Thursday that he agreed the CSC had followed the law in transferring Bernardo, but said that law must be changed — specifically a 2018 Criminal Code amendment that requires inmates are held in the “least restrictive” environment possible while in custody.
He called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to issue a directive to require all mass murderers to remain in maximum security for the entirety of their sentence, or for Parliament to pass a Conservative bill with the same requirement.
“Paul Bernardo should leave prison in a box when he’s dead,” Poilievre said.
“He should never be out of a maximum security penitentiary. To allow it is an injustice to victims and their families, on whom he exacted his terrible outrages.”
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When were families notified?
Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the families of French and Mahaffy, agreed with Poilievre that the “least restrictive” principle should not be applied to all inmates, and also called for legislative changes.
“There cannot be a one fits all criteria,” he wrote in a preliminary statement sent to the media, noting he and the families had not yet reviewed the full review report in detail.
Danson said he had “constructive” conversations with Correctional Service Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Wednesday about the report into the review and agreed to stay in further contact.
Danson’s statement did not mention the report’s findings about victim notification, which called for better notification for families.
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The CSC review said that on the morning of May 29, prior to the transfer, “heads up” notifications were made by phone to the victims, though not all registered victims were immediately reached.
“Heads up” calls are not required by policy, however, they were done in this case given the high-profile nature and extreme sensitivity of the case.
After Bernardo was transferred, victims were again contacted by phone to be informed of the move and that the general reason for the transfer was “reassessed security requirements.”
When news broke on June 2 of Bernardo’s transfer, Danson told Motorcycle accident toronto today he only learned about his transfer after the fact.
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Officials have struggled to explain why Mendicino and Trudeau said they were not informed until the day the transfer occurred, and the day after, respectively, despite their offices knowing about the possibility for months.
Newly released emails obtained by Motorcycle accident toronto today through an access to information request revealed senior officials within the CSC and Public Safety Canada said Bernardo’s then-looming transfer needed to be kept “low profile” and under a “close hold” just days before it happened.
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The emails also showed CSC advising Public Safety Canada that the families of Bernardo’s victims would get “a heads up” prior to the transfer taking place — something the families’ lawyer said didn’t happen until afterward.
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The records obtained by Motorcycle accident toronto today show that on May 25 — four days before Bernardo was transferred — the CSC’s assistant communications commissioner emailed media lines flagged as high importance to five individuals.
The emails show a Public Service Canada official then forwarded the information to senior department officials, including the assistant deputy minister of communications and chief of staff to the director general, advising them to keep it a “close hold and for Deputies’ awareness only.”
Mendicino and his office have previously said the minister was not made aware of Bernardo’s transfer until May 30, the day after it took place.
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Trudeau’s office says he was briefed the day the transfer occurred.
Both have faced heavy scrutiny over why their staff had been advised about the matter dating back to March and then again on May 25, in the case of Mendicino’s office, but had apparently not informed them until the day of or after the transfer.
The Conservative Party has called on Mendicino to resign or for Trudeau to fire him over the issue, arguing it was part of a pattern of mismanagement regarding important public safety matters.
Poilievre repeated those calls while speaking to reporters in Toronto.
“(Mendicino’s staff) were walking past him every day in the hallway, they were briefing him every morning, (and) they forgot to mention that Canada’s most notorious mass murderer was being transferred out of a maximum security penitentiary?” Poilievre said.
“I’m sorry, that’s just not credible. Either he did know and he’s lying, or he didn’t know and he’s incompetent.”
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The media lines included in the emails obtained by Motorcycle accident toronto today match the public statements released by CSC at the time the transfer became public.
They include assurances the transfer was carefully considered with public safety in mind, and note that inmates are able to request transfers to other institutions.
CSC given new directives on victim notifications
As Kelly began speaking about the Bernardo transfer being “sound,” Mendicino’s office issued a new ministerial directive for CSC focused on victim notification around inmate transfer and classification.
The directive also says it will establish a formal process to notify the minister when these matters involve high-profile offenders.
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When it comes to informing victims of high-profile prison transfers or classification changes there are three specific instructions.
The directive instructs CSC to consider victim information at the outset of the decision-making process or as soon as a voluntary transfer request is being considered. They must also work with victims services to collect input from victims in advance of making a decision assessment, and will be required to consider whether a victim lives near an institution considered for transfer and find an alternative facility where possible.
The statement released from Mendicino’s office outlining this directive did not mention the Bernardo situation.
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