CSC told staff not to inform public about Luka Magnotta transfer: docs

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Luka Magnotta: Correctional staff told not to publicize murderer’s prison transfer
WATCH: Correctional Service Canada (CSC) instructed staff to keep quiet over murderer Luka Magnotta's August 2022 transfer from a maximum to a medium security prison, according to newly-obtained documents. Touria Izri explains the CSC's rationale, and the calls for more transparency.

Three days before murderer Luka Magnotta was transferred from a maximum to medium security prison, Correctional Service Canada instructed staff not to tell the public about the move, newly released documents show.

The decision to transfer one of Canada’s most notorious killers back in the summer of 2022 would not come to light for nearly two years.

Internal communications pointed to the Privacy Act as the reason for withholding information, even though the law allows for some exceptions in matters of public interest.

On Dec. 23, 2014, Magnotta was found guilty of murdering and dismembering international student Jun Lin, and mailing his body parts to political parties.

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

Nearly eight years later, on Aug. 11, 2022, Magnotta was moved from Port-Cartier, a maximum security institution in eastern Quebec, to La Macaza, a medium security prison, northwest of Montreal and continues to serve an indeterminate life sentence.

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Internal emails, obtained through access to information laws, show Correctional Service Canada (CSC) sent staff members talking points ahead of Magnotta’s move, telling them to stay quiet about key details.

“We do not announce transfers, as we don’t disclose the location of offenders. If asked, we would advise media that the Privacy Act doesn’t allow us to speak about specific offenders’ cases. We can; however, provide information about security classification and transfers,” reads an email sent by a member of the CSC communications’ team on Aug. 8, 2022.

Click to play video: 'Paul Bernardo transfer: CSC can move killer back to higher security institution if ‘deemed necessary’'
Paul Bernardo transfer: CSC can move killer back to higher security institution if ‘deemed necessary’

Another email, sent three months earlier, states then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino’s office had a bilateral meeting with the correctional service and discussed the potential public interest.

“As noted today during the MO (minister’s office) bilat with CSC” Magnotta is considered a “high profile offender” and there has been “extensive national and international media attention” surrounding the case.

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At that time “the expected date of transfer” was not yet known, but staff anticipated questions from journalists.

“Magnotta continues to be the focus of media attention, and as a result, additional coverage of the upcoming transfer is expected,” reads the email dated May 9, 2022. Most of the addresses it was sent to were redacted in the documents Global News received.

The Magnotta move stayed under wraps until March of this year, when the inmate’s transfer warrant to La Macaza was obtained by the Toronto Sun.

Another high-profile offender, serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo, was sent to the same medium security prison nine months before Magnotta.

In both cases, government officials said Canada’s privacy laws limited what information they could reveal.

But the legislation does allow for leeway, says the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC).

“The Privacy Act allows federal government institutions to disclose some personal information in the public interest,” said OPC spokesperson Vito Pilieci in a statement to Global News Monday.

In the U.S., inmates’ records and locations can be searched in a publicly available database.

But in Canada, the documents suggest the correctional service defaulted to secrecy when it came to what information could be released about Magnotta.

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The Office of Privacy Commissioner told Global News CSC did not reach out for advice regarding the matter and whether to inform the public.

“The OPC was not contacted about the transfer,” Pilieci said.

While “incarcerated persons have privacy rights … decisions related to the disclosure of personal information in the public interest must be made by heads of institutions on a case-by-case basis,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement to Global News Tuesday, CSC said it takes its obligations under the Privacy Act “very seriously.”

“We weigh a variety of considerations before choosing to exercise an exemption under the Act. The decision whether to publicly disclose personal information is balanced with a number of factors, which includes the safety of our employees and institutions, and the privacy of all involved,” said spokesperson Esther Mailhot.

“In order to protect the safety of our employees and offenders who are involved in operations such as a transfer, and for the security of our institutions as a whole, we do not typically comment or publicly announce these operational details,” she added.

How the Bernardo transfer was handled

Last June, the former public safety minister said his hands were tied when it came to what he could divulge to Canadians about Bernardo’s transfer.

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The correctional service said it had provided Mendicino’s office with advanced notice, but the then public safety minister said he did not find out until after Bernardo was transferred.

And once the transfer became public, Mendicino said Canada’s privacy laws restricted him from releasing information on the reasoning behind the serial killer’s reclassification.

“The Privacy Act and other legislation currently puts significant limits on what can be discussed publicly, including information surrounding specific inmate transfers,” Mendicino said in a statement at the time.

Mendicino’s handling of the transfer set off a wave of criticism last spring, and by summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had shuffled him out of cabinet.

A review of Bernardo’s move to a medium-security prison found CSC followed protocol, but determined the correctional service needs to improve how it communicates transfers to victims’ families.

What is in the public interest?

Former correctional investigator Howard Sapers says CSC is trying to strike a balance.

“There is a legitimate public interest to know if their safety for example, is at risk. There’s not a legitimate public interest if they’re just curious,” Sapers told Global News in an interview Tuesday.

However, the former federal watchdog acknowledges the correctional service can “do more” to educate the public about the justice system.

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“The starting point is explain the law. Explain why the law is the way it is. Explain what those principles are based on… using the least intrusive measures protects us all,” said Sapers.

The CSC said “our correctional system is fundamentally based on the rehabilitation of offenders, even if some remain incarcerated for the rest of their lives.”

The medium security facility where Magnotta is living has a “well-defined perimeter with high-fences, is strictly guarded 24/7 and is monitored at all times by armed control posts,” added the spokesperson.

When asked if the Lin family had been notified about Magnotta’s transfer, the correctional service said “if there are any registered victims” they “receive timely notification.”

Tom Engel, president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, says the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects all Canadians, even those who have “committed horrendous crimes.”

“In the case of Magnotta, or Bernardo, I don’t see any overriding public interest to inform the public,” he said.

A parliamentary committee recently voted to study Magnotta’s transfer and is expected to hear testimony from CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly and the warden of La Macaza.

— with files from the Canadian Press

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