Senior officials within Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and Public Safety Canada said the then-looming transfer of serial killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison needed to be kept “low profile” and under a “close hold” just days before it happened, internal emails show.
The newly-released emails also show the 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.
News of Bernardo’s transfer from a maximum security prison in late May shocked Canadians and engulfed the Liberal government in controversy.
Officials have struggled to explain why Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Prime Minister Justin 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.
Global News obtained the emails through an access to information request to Public Safety Canada that sought “all records prepared for the minister” between May 22 and June 3. One page of emails and five pages of prepared media lines on the transfer were the only materials released in response to the request.
Ministers’ offices and their staff are not subject to access to information laws, but their corresponding departments and officials are.
The records 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.
Of those, two are listed as public servants with Correctional Service Canada while three others were redacted individuals using Public Safety Canada email accounts.
“I know we have briefed your team and will use these lines to also brief PCO shortly,” the CSC official wrote to the five. “The victims will get a heads up on Monday morning prior to the transfer.”
PCO is the acronym for the Privy Council Office.
The CSC official then forwarded that email to the director general of communications for Public Safety Canada.
“FYI — keeping this low profile and need to know but wanted you to be aware,” the CSC official wrote.
The emails show the Public Service Canada official then forwarded the information to senior department officials, including the assistant deputy minister of communications at Public Safety Canada and the chief of staff to the director general of Public Safety Canada, 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.
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.
Mendicino’s office and the CSC have said that “notification in the form of communications products came to the minister’s office on May 25 ahead of the May 29 transfer.”
The prison service has also confirmed it first informed the minister’s office in March about the possibility Bernardo would be transferred, then again on May 25.
News of the transfer made headlines on June 2.
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.
Earlier this month, The Canadian Press obtained emails under the Access to Information Act that showed Anne Kelly, the federal corrections commissioner, telling the deputy minister of public safety and the associate deputy minister, three days ahead of the transfer.
Asked by The Canadian Press why neither of the senior officials raised the matter directly with Mendicino, a spokesman for the department said “neither deputy had reason to believe the minister was not aware based on the information they had.”
“As part of her normal practice, the Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada informed the minister’s office, the associate (deputy minister) and the deputy minister of the decision that had been made in this case,” spokesperson Tim Warmington wrote.
“It is not the normal practice for the deputies to be involved in operational decisions of the (correctional service).”
Despite the emails obtained by Global News showing CSC intended to inform the families of Bernardo’s victims about his transfer ahead of time, the families lawyer Tim Danson told Global News last month he only learned about the move after the fact.
“The call isn’t to say it’s going to happen on a certain day and time,” he said upon first confirming the transfer. “The call is that it just occured.”
Global News has reached out to Danson for comment on the newly-obtained emails.
The media lines included in the emails 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.
—with files from Global’s Amanda Connolly, Jacquelyn LeBel and John Lawless, and from The Canadian Press