Corrections Review Finds Decision to Transfer Bernardo to Medium Security Prison Was ‘Sound’

Corrections Review Finds Decision to Transfer Bernardo to Medium Security Prison Was ‘Sound’
Paul Bernardo arrives at the provincial courthouse in Toronto on November 3, 1995. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Matthew Horwood

A review of the controversial decision to transfer serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison has found the Correctional Service of Canada’s decision was “sound,” but noted that the agency could have given victims’ families advance warning of his transfer.

“The Review Committee concluded that the decisions to reclassify this inmate to medium security and transfer him to La Macaza Institution were sound and followed all applicable laws and policies,” said Anne Kelly, Canada’s correctional service commissioner, when introducing the report at a press conference in Ottawa on July 20.

Mr. Bernardo is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole after kidnapping, torturing, and murdering Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in the 1990s. He was also found guilty of the sexual assault and manslaughter of his 15-year-old sister-in-law Tammy Homolka.

Mr. Bernardo, who has been serving his sentence for the last 25 years, was quietly transferred on May 29 from a high-security prison to a medium-security facility. The transfer means that he can spend less time in his cell and associate with other inmates.

Following the news, the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) tasked a review committee with determining if Mr. Bernardo’s transfer was appropriate and if all policies and rules were followed.

‘Very Rigorous Process’

When introducing the report, Ms. Kelly said factors such as the risk to staff and public safety, the rights of victims, and humane treatment were taken into account with the transfer decision.

Ms. Kelly said while the personal information around the transfer of prisoners is normally kept private, she authorized the release of information surrounding Bernardo’s case due to high public interest around the “exceptional” circumstances. Ms. Kelly said that the CSC must regularly review the security classification of inmates, which she called a “very rigorous process.”

Ms. Kelly said the process means examining three aspects of each prisoner; the institutional adjustment, also known as “the degree of supervision and control required to manage the inmate,” the escape risk, and the risk of the public in the event of an escape. Ms. Kelly said in Bernardo’s case, he was rated “moderate” on institutional adjustment, “moderate” on escape risk, and “high” on the risk to the safety of the public.

While Bernardo is now a medium-security inmate, Ms. Kelly noted he is still assessed as being a high risk to public safety, and that “at any point” he can be returned to a higher-security prison.

“He also continues to hold a dangerous offender designation, which was imposed by the court. No inmate who is a high risk to the public can go to a minimum security institution,” she said.

The review committee made two recommendations: that CSC was to share the findings of this review and recommendations with the registered victims prior to any release of information to the media or to the public, and that it strengthen victim notifications and engagement by striking a committee dedicated to this work. Ms. Kelly said she accepted both recommendations.

Country ‘Still Reeling’: Trudeau

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was looking forward to seeing the conclusions of the committee.

“I think the entire country is still reeling from the anguish of these terrible, terrible acts. That’s the lens with which we have to go through all these processes,” he told reporters in Kingston, Ont.

“We have a justice system that operates independently, but we need to continue to make sure that it’s doing so in a way that is putting victims and families first, that is reassuring people that it is rigorous in the way it goes forward.”

On June 20, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino issued a ministerial direction to the CSC that will “improve notification to victims surrounding security classification and transfers of offenders,” and establish a formal process to notify the minister of public safety regarding security classification and the transfers of high-profile offenders.

Mr. Mendicino has been criticized for his handling of the file after he called the transfer “shocking and incomprehensible,” while it was later revealed his office was notified of the transfer three months in advance. This led Conservatives to call for his resignation.