PMO knew for months that Paul Bernardo may be transferred, says Trudeau spokesperson

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) confirmed the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) and Public Safety Canada knew about the transfer months in advance.

PMO knew for months that Paul Bernardo may be transferred, says Trudeau spokesperson
Facebook/ Marco Mendicino
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Moving serial rapist Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison irked Canadians but none more than the families of his victims.

Tim Danson, the lawyer representing the families, did not receive details of the killer's custody conditions nor an explanation for the move, citing privacy rights.

However, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) knew months in advance of Bernardo's transfer, according to a PMO spokesperson.

"When a staff member in the Prime Minister's Office was alerted in March by the Privy Council Office about the possibility of the transfer, inquiries and requests for information were immediately made to the Public Safety Minister's Office," said spokesperson Alison Murphy.

On May 29, Trudeau received a briefing on the transfer, but his spokesperson did not immediately confirm if they knew Correctional Service Canada (CSC) approved it beforehand.

Bernardo has 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. 

Despite the shock and dismay expressed by Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino over the transfer, the latter invoked the wrath of the victims' families and Parliament. 

Danson said the families want Bernardo returned to maximum security as he is a "dangerous offender."

"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 Wednesday, Mendicino told the Commons his staff should have briefed him on the transfer before it happened. However, a separate statement from Public Safety Canada suggested the minister's staff knew about the transfer on March 2, as did the PMO.

The CSC confirmed that both offices knew about the transfer months in advance.

"The March 2 email contained information notifying them of the transfer, along with communications messaging to support this," said Correctional Services Canada spokesperson Kevin Antonucci in a statement Wednesday. 

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."

While the minister promptly demanded the CSC contact him directly about high-profile inmate transfers, Opposition parties denounced the federal government for its 'pattern of ignorance.'

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh called the deceit surrounding the transfer "a level of disorganization and negligence in the government that is having serious consequences."

"There is a legitimate question as to whether or not Minister Mendicino is on top of his job," he said.

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre concurred that the controversy shows "a failure of leadership at the very top."

"Instead of acting, the Prime Minister did nothing and left it in the hands of his most useless minister," he said.

The Conservatives urged the minister to resign. "I will not," Mendicino told MPs repeatedly.

Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet also denounced an apparent "culture of ignorance" within Ottawa. "This government has a bad habit of saying 'I didn't know,'" he said. "If they know so little, what are they doing there?"

On Monday, the Trudeau Liberals opposed a Conservative motion to keep serial killers in maximum-security prisons. 

"Conservatives are fighting to protect victims," tweeted Poilievre. "Trudeau is putting the criminals first."

Upon hearing the news, Mendicino told reporters he conversed with Anne Kelly, the federal corrections commissioner, of his profound concern by 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.

The Tory leader said Bernardo "presents a greater risk that he should be back in a maximum security penitentiary and that no killer of this type should be released from maximum security." 

Mary Campbell, a lawyer who retired as director-general of the corrections and criminal justice directorate in 2013, said despite the horrific nature of the crimes committed, the corrections system has a mandate to rehabilitate offenders.

While Campbell admits the CSC's lack of transparency is 'regrettable,' she said the criteria for transferring an inmate to another prison "is not based on revenge."

Poilievre also claimed Trudeau and Mendicino could put Bernardo in a maximum-security prison if they had the will to make that call.

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

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