Deputy public safety minister thought Mendicino knew of Bernardo transfer in advance, says spokesperson

'Neither deputy had reason to believe the minister was not aware based on the information they had,' says public safety spokesperson Tim Warmington.

Deputy public safety minister thought Mendicino knew of Bernardo transfer in advance, says spokesperson
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Public Safety Canada continues to dodge accountability for the transfer of notorious serial killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison in May.

For weeks Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has dealt with the blowback from the decision by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to move Bernardo, who is serving a life sentence for the kidnapping, torture and murders of Kristen French, 15, in 1991 and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, in 1992. 

Mendicino called the transfer "shocking and incomprehensible."

Before the Parliamentary summer recess, the minister said he would issue a directive to ensure corrections" formally and directly" notifies him "of the transfer of any high profile or dangerous offenders."

The prison service later confirmed it notified Public Safety Canada on March 2 — three months before they moved Bernardo — and again several days before the transfer. However, Mendicino claims ignorance of the transfer until after the fact.

Bernardo spent nearly three decades in maximum security — first at Kingston Penitentiary and then Millhaven Institution near Kingston — and then at the medium-security La Macaza Institution starting on May 29, about 190 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly could not explain why Mendicino did not know of Bernardo's transfer to a medium-security facility. However, they confirmed the PMO and Mendicino's office knew about the transfer months in advance.

"[A] March 2 email contained information notifying them of the transfer, along with communications messaging to support this," said CSC spokesperson Kevin Antonucci.

Mendicino's office also received an email on May 25 with "updated communications messaging, as well the fact that the transfer would occur on May 29."

Kelly also wrote on May 26 to Public Safety Canada's deputy minister Shawn Tupper and associate deputy minister Tricia Geddes. "I had said I would confirm the transfer with you. It will occur next week," she said, with the subject line "High Profile Offender."

Kelly told them that Public Safety Canada, Mendicino's office, the Privy Council Office and the PMO "have been advised" and that "we have media lines ready."

Tupper acknowledged the confirmation minutes later. The reasons for the transfer have yet to be disclosed owing to "privacy issues."

Asked repeatedly why neither of the senior officials raised the matter directly with Mendicino, a public safety spokesman 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 made in this case," wrote spokesperson Tim Warmington.

"It is not the normal practice for the deputies to be involved in operational decisions of the [correctional service]."

On June 2, Mendicino said Canadians deserve answers on Bernardo's relocation, as the public interest of this case "outweighs any invasion of privacy." He also called it a mistake by his staff not to inform him of Bernardo's move in the first place.

On June 4, Kelly wrote to the minister: "I remain available to meet with you." He responded within 10 minutes: "Yes, we'll coordinate a call."

The following day, the public safety minister told reporters he conversed with Kelly to express his profound disappointment with the decision.

"She assured me that she would be reviewing the matter," said Mendicino, adding Public Safety Canada cannot review the decision independently of the CSC.

Both the federal corrections service and the government confirmed the authority to decide on Bernardo rested solely with the service.

The access to information documents also showed that Kelly wrote back to Tupper and Geddes on June 6 to check whether Mendicino's office had been advised of Bernardo's transfer, as the clerk of the Privy Council asked the same question.

"I understand from my staff that someone at [the Public Safety Department] said [the minister] had not been notified," she wrote with the subject line "PRIVATE — Transfer."

"We have a notification process in place, as you know, and we certainly followed it."

On June 13, CSC repeated that Mendicino's office had been notified about the transfer.

The minister told the Commons his staff should have briefed him on the transfer before it happened. But a separate statement from Public Safety Canada confirmed that the minister's staff, as did the PMO, knew about the transfer on March 2.

Mendicino claimed his staff made a mistake by not informing him, though he denied they intentionally kept him in the dark. The minister has since announced plans to issue a directive where he is told of such transfers directly.

The CSC said it is still reviewing Bernardo's transfer and will inform the public of the results "at the earliest opportunity," according to Antonucci.

The federal correctional service said his transfer and new security classification remain under review by a three-person panel.

"While the review is being prioritized in a timely way, it is also important that this is done thoroughly and completely to help provide Canadians with answers to their questions," said Mendicino.

Antonucci added: "As we have stated before, at any point, an inmate can be placed, or returned to, a higher security level if deemed necessary to ensure the safety of the public or our institutions. And, depending on the review results, we will not hesitate to do so if needed."

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