Amid a campaign of blissful ignorance on the transfer of serial killer Paul Bernardo, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Public Safety Canada pleaded the fifth to save face. However, the head of Canada's federal prison system wrote to the latter, insisting they followed the appropriate notification protocols.
Through an access to information request, The Canadian Press learned that Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) Commissioner Anne Kelly could not explain why Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino did not know of Bernardo's transfer to a medium-security facility.
The CSC 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 Correctional Services Canada 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."
The access to information request revealed that Kelly 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," said Kelly, with the subject line "High Profile Offender."
She 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."
On June 2, Mendicino concurred that Canadians deserve answers on Bernardo's relocation, as the public interest of this case "outweighs any invasion of privacy."
Bernardo spent 30 years of a life sentence in prison for the kidnapping, torture and murders of 15-year-old Kristen French in 1991 and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in 1992.
Mendicino ultimately called the transfer "shocking and incomprehensible."
Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the families, did not receive details of the killer's custody conditions nor an explanation for the move before the transfer, citing privacy rights.
"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? I can't answer these questions other than to agree with them and share in their despair," he said.
"The families are demanding answers to this because they feel that they've been taken for granted and that they have been manipulated."
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.
"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."
Danson said the families ultimately want Bernardo returned to maximum security as he is a "dangerous offender."
"This is one of Canada's most notorious, sadistic, psychopathic killers," he said.