Families of Bernardo victims not given adequate notice of transfer, says lawyer

Corrections Commissioner Anne Kelly says La Macaza Institution specializes in managing "this type of offender" and that Bernardo could still be transferred to a maximum-security facility if necessary. 'It does not negate the fact that he is a psychopath.'

Families of Bernardo victims not given adequate notice of transfer, says lawyer
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Greg Banning
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The families of Paul Bernardo's victims are unimpressed with the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) for transferring the 'psychopath' who killed their kin to a medium-security facility.

A review of the transfer confirmed Bernardo, 58, would remain at the La Macaza Institution in Québec. He served the first three decades at Millhaven Institution for the kidnapping, torture and murders of 15-year-old Kristen French in 1991 and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in 1992.

CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly unveiled the report on his transfer Thursday, disclosing the prolific serial killer demonstrated "generally conformist" behaviour.

Corrections noted that disclosing an offender's personal information is 'rare,' but they made an exception in "the public's interest."

Kelly added that the relocation of Bernardo followed all applicable laws and policies.

"I recognize that some may not support this outcome [as Bernardo remains a high risk to the public's safety]," she said.

"While this case has opened up a larger and more important debate about the role of corrections in our society, it is important to look at the larger context. I have been with CSC for nearly 40 years, and I know that our feelings towards an offender must not guide our decisions." 

Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the families, said they do not accept the "sound" transfer of Bernardo. 

Danson urges the federal government to re-evaluate Canada's corrections and parole systems, with original sentences fully factoring into transfer decisions. He specifically called for better notification for families. 

The lawyer cited the judge's comments at Bernardo's 1995 sentencing that his chance at rehabilitation "is remote in the extreme."

At Bernardo's 2021 parole hearing, Danson said the board found he showed no remorse, insight or empathy for his actions. 

According to a psychiatrist at that hearing, the serial killer still met the criteria for sexual sadism and narcissistic personality disorder and displayed psychopathic traits, all untreatable conditions.

"No one can suggest that in the last two years, Bernardo has been able to effect a miraculous rehabilitation within a maximum-security federal penitentiary, which he could not achieve in the first 28 years," said Danson.

Since 1999, Corrections has reviewed its security classification 14 times as part of its effective offender integration plan.

"There cannot be a 'one fits all' criteria," the lawyer told reporters, adding the families had not yet reviewed the full review report in detail.

"No law that is 'shocking' and 'incomprehensible' can stand and must be changed to address the specific challenges faced when dealing with Canada's most dangerous offenders."

Kelly clarified Thursday that the transfer does not mean Bernardo would continue to cascade down through the system.

Though La Macaza and Millhaven have comparable security protocols, including a well-defined perimeter, high fences, 24/7 strict guarding, and inmate movement monitoring, Bernardo faced a 'heightened safety risk' at Millhaven as a high-profile offender.

Kelly iterated that La Macaza specializes in managing "this type of offender" and that he could be transferred to a maximum-security facility if necessary.

"Despite the fact that he is at a medium-security institution, it does not negate the fact that he is a psychopath," she said.

Danson countered, claiming the CSC is hiding behind the Privacy Act to renounce any accountability for not sharing information about Bernardo with Canadians "under the pretext of protecting the offender's privacy rights."

Corrections confirmed Thursday that they shared the review and recommendations with the registered victims' next of kin before being released publicly. 

They claimed to have "[gone] above policy in this case to notify victims" but noted that supplementary steps should have been taken to provide more timely information.

A CSC release from June 5 states: "We have continued to provide information and updates to all registered victims through our National Victim Services Program and will continue to do so moving forward."

Danson writes that he received two "non-descript" voicemails from CSC that day with information on the transfer.

"To be credible, the advanced notice would have to have occurred days before or at the latest the day prior. Yet apparently, the Frenches were advised on the morning of Mr. Bernardo's transfer without any explanation," said Danson.

"Ms. Mahaffy was left with the distinct impression that the transfer had already occurred, or at best, was imminent."

Corrections kept Bernardo's May 29 transfer quiet, facilitating a firestorm of anger from Canadians and Public Safety Canada.

However, CSC did inform Mendicino's office several times before the transfer, with the first time dated March 2 by email.

The minister attributed his ignorance of the transfer to a "breakdown in information flow" within his office, prompting him to issue a "ministerial directive" requiring he be made aware of high-profile prison transfers and receive a full report within 30 days, outlining the directive.

According to the CSC, Thursday's report indicates that the directive has been drafted and will be implemented.

The Corrections panel charged with undertaking the review recommended strengthening victim notifications. They said this would happen through a committee tasked with bolstering engagement. 

Danson commented on "constructive" talks with Kelly and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Wednesday about the report into the review and agreed to hold further discussions.

Mendicino told the commissioner last month that he considered the transfer "incomprehensible." 

Kelly confirmed the transfer decision did not involve the minister as CSC operates independently of Public Safety Canada. 

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