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Dangerous offenders like Paul Bernardo warrant tougher transfer rules: lawyer

Click to play video: 'Why Paul Bernardo will stay in medium-security prison'
Why Paul Bernardo will stay in medium-security prison
WATCH: Notorious serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo will stay in a medium-security prison, as Correctional Service Canada (CSC) commissioner Anne Kelly says the decision to transfer him from maximum-security facility was "sound." David Akin explains how the CSC is defending the move, and the bitter opposition by the families of Bernardo's victims – Jul 20, 2023

The lawyer for the families of two of Paul Bernardo’s victims is calling on Ottawa to implement different prisoner classification rules for dangerous offenders like Bernardo.

Earlier this year, the notorious serial killer was moved from a maximum security facility in Ontario to a medium security penitentiary in Quebec.

According to the lawyer for the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, Tim Danson, his clients only found out about the transfer when Bernardo was in transit.

“We must eliminate for these types of offenders the notion that the penitentiary sentence has to be the least restrictive. That is inconsistent with the sentencing principles and inconsistent with what the trial judge had to say about Mr. Bernardo,” Danson told the House of Commons public safety committee.

“This criteria that he’s not representing a threat to prison guards and other inmates and that’s a justification for transferring him to medium security … there just has to be a fundamental shift in establishing a separate criteria for Canada’s most dangerous offenders, and don’t put them in the mix and apply the same criteria to them that applies to a majority of offenders.”

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Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French were 14 and 15 years old, respectively, when they were kidnapped, raped and ultimately killed by Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka. Homolka made a plea deal with prosecutors to plead guilty to manslaughter and served her 12-year sentence before being released in 2005.

Bernardo’s transfer triggered a political firestorm earlier this year, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling the transfer “unacceptable.”

Click to play video: 'Emails show staff anticipated fallout over Bernardo prison transfer'
Emails show staff anticipated fallout over Bernardo prison transfer

On Nov. 27, Correctional Service of Canada Commissioner Anne Kelly defended the prisoner reclassification system, saying it is rigorous and is legislated to be assessed every two years.

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“In Canada, our correction system is fundamentally based on the rehabilitation of offenders even if some remain in custody for the rest of their lives,” Kelly said on Monday.

“Under the law, CSC must assign a security classification to each inmate and review it at regular intervals. Our approach to both initial security classification and security reclassification is very rigorous.”

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Danson told the committee that he’s there to speak for the French and Mahaffy families and relay their wishes to the committee as it’s too emotional for them to speak publicly about the matter.

He says the families accept that Bernardo is still entitled to his rights, including humane treatment in jail and ability to seek parole, but are seeking justice.

“What is justice for a convicted, sadistic, sexual psychopath who committed the most unspeakable crimes known to humankind?” Danson asked the committee.

He went on to say that Bernardo is designated as a dangerous offender and two separate parole board panels ruled that he showed no empathy and is not treatable in the prison system. This is why Danson said his clients believe he should have stayed in maximum security.

In maximum security, Kelly told the committee last Monday that the main difference between that and medium security is how much control is placed on inmate movements in the facility. She emphasized that perimeter security measures are the same.

Kelly added that to be deemed a maximum security inmate, they are some combination of needing a high degree of control on the prison system, present a high escape risk and are a public safety risk.

“You can have somebody like Paul Bernardo, who remains a high risk to the safety of the public, but we can manage this particular offender or offenders like him in a medium security institution,” she said.

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“So, it’s managing the risk the offender presents in the institution.”

Inmates sent to minimum security institutions are considered low risk in all three of the above factors, Kelly told committee.

Click to play video: 'Paul Bernardo transfer: Serial killer will stay in medium-security prison following ‘sound’ decision: review'
Paul Bernardo transfer: Serial killer will stay in medium-security prison following ‘sound’ decision: review

Danson says that he agrees rehabilitation is an essential part of the criminal justice system and needs to be the focus for a vast majority of inmates. However, with Bernardo, he argues that there is no sign rehabilitation is possible.

“That doesn’t mean don’t give him treatment programs that exist in maximum security, but you don’t move him into medium security. There is — notwithstanding they say they would never move him into minimum security — there is in my experience a cascading effect, which is of deep concern,” Danson said.

“In my view, it is the punishment side, sending that message … that has to take priority.”

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