The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) will review the transfer of killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says.
Bernardo‘s move to a facility in Quebec made headlines last week after the correctional service notified the lawyer representing the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, the teenagers who Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and murdered in the early 1990s.
The killer and serial rapist had been serving a life sentence at Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security penitentiary near Kingston, Ont.
“I took the opportunity this morning to speak with (Corrections) Commissioner (Anne) Kelly. I told her that as a former federal prosecutor and as a Canadian, that I was profoundly concerned and again, shocked by this decision. She assured me that she understood. She also assured me that she was going to be reviewing the matter,” Mendicino said.
In a statement issued shortly afterwards, CSC said Kelly authorized a review to examine whether the transfer was “appropriate, evidence-based, and more importantly, adequately considered victims.”
Tim Danson, a lawyer for the victims’ families, said it was unacceptable that the prison service refused to answer questions about the reason for Bernardo’s move or details of his custody conditions, citing his privacy rights.
Mendicino said Canadians are “entitled to a justification around the decision,” and that whether or not the transfer would be reversed would be decided by the CSC.
The CSC said in its statement laws restrict it in terms of what in can say about an offender’s case. It did add that it can place inmates in higher-security prisons “at any point” if deemed necessary to ensure safety of the public and institutions.
“Pending the review, we will not hesitate to do so, if needed,” the CSC said.
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.”
A government official acknowledged on Friday that the CSC provided Mendicino with a heads-up of the transfer, but the decision was independent and since transfers are not typically public information, they were not in a position to comment before Friday.
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.”
— with files from The Canadian Press