Paul Bernardo should be returned to a maximum-security prison, the lawyer representing the families of his young murder victims said as he called on the Correctional Service of Canada to be more transparent about what led to his transfer to a medium-security facility in the first place.
Tim Danson represents the relatives of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, who Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the early 1990s.
Danson said he was informed by phone last week that Bernardo, who was serving a life sentence at the maximum-security Millhaven Institution near Kingston, Ont., had been transferred to a medium-security facility in Quebec.
He said the Correctional Service of Canada, citing Bernardo’s privacy rights, refused to answer questions about the reason for the move. Danson said he was also unable to learn whether the serial murderer and sex offender was in protective custody or socializing with other inmates, which that security classification allows.
“This is one of Canada’s most notorious, sadistic, psychopathic killers,” he told The Canadian Press.
“We need the public in masses, in millions, to be writing to the minister, to the commissioner of corrections, and to the members of Parliament, to express their outrage over this — that secrecy will not work. We want transparency.”
Danson said he was pleased to see a statement from Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Friday, in which he called Bernardo’s transfer “shocking and incomprehensible.”
“But now we need action,” Danson added.
Mendicino said he planned to raise the situation with Anne Kelly, commissioner of the federal correctional service, saying he expects it to “take a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach in these cases.”
The service, for its part, issued a statement offering no details about Bernardo’s transfer but saying safety is its “paramount consideration” in all such decisions.
“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an offender’s case under the Privacy Act, we want to assure the public that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure institution, with appropriate security perimeters and controls in place,” the statement read.
It went on to note that Bernardo, who has been designated a dangerous offender, is serving an “indeterminate sentence” with no end date.
Danson said the French and Mahaffy families were shocked to hear of Bernardo’s transfer, with the move bringing up decades of anguish and grief.
“Then for me to have to tell them as their lawyer and their friend, ‘I’m afraid I have no answers for you because of Bernardo’s privacy rights,”’ he said.
“Of course their response is the one that you would expect: ‘What about the rights of Kristen? What about the rights of Leslie? What about their rights?”
“These are questions I can’t answer other than just to agree with them and share in their despair.”
Opposition Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre added his own condemnation on Twitter, saying Bernardo’s transfer demonstrates the federal government’s failure to protect victims and laying the blame at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s feet.
Bernardo’s dangerous offender status makes the move all the more puzzling, Danson added as he questioned why Bernardo should reap any benefits of being in a medium-security facility with more lenient living conditions.
“We need an open and transparent discussion and debate. These are major, major public institutions paid for by the taxpayers of Canada.”
He suggested the correctional service’s handling of the matter risks leading the public to feel suspicious of the entire system.
“They want to do everything behind closed doors and secretly.”
© 2023 The Canadian Press