Convicted killer Paul Bernardo, who also pleaded guilty to numerous rapes, has applied for day parole in Toronto.

The lawyer for the families of Bernardo's murder victims — 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French — says Correctional Service Canada sent out a form letter to the families last week advising them of his application.

Tim Danson says it is Bernardo's right to apply for parole three years before he is eligible, but this has left families of both girls devastated, even though they knew this day was coming.

"It is 22 years after the fact for my clients," Danson said.

"It was — I don't even know what words to use — but really upsetting for them. It just brings everything back and they have to re-live things."

Danson says he has told the families that there is no chance Bernardo will ever see the outside world again, that this is simply part of the process.

Bernardo, now 50, was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 25 years for raping and murdering Mahaffy and French, crimes he carried out with his then wife, Karla Homolka. He was sentenced in September 1995, following a trial that summer and a string of crimes dating back to 1987.

Can be imprisoned indefinitely

He was also given dangerous offender status, the most severe designation in Canadian law, for admitting to raping 14 other women and other charges related to Mahaffy and French. Dangerous offenders can be imprisoned indefinitely.

Danson said he received the letter on June 25 and has been corresponding with the authorities since then.

It's rare for people convicted of first-degree murder to also be designated dangerous offenders, since first-degree murder already carries a life sentence.

Danson believes the dangerous offender designation must be dealt with first, rather than the murder charges.

"There is a process that's set up for dangerous offenders to persuade the parole board that you're no longer a dangerous
offender, which is different criteria than normal parole board criteria," he said.

"That must be dealt with first."

He said the authorities are working with him to figure out the proper process.

Stigma of dangerous offenders

Michael Mandelcorn, president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, which advocates for prisoners' rights, said the stigma of a dangerous offender designation inhibits any chance of parole.

"There's a huge amount of time that goes by before somebody normally gains a release on a dangerous offender designation," said the Kingston, Ont.-based lawyer. "And those people are few and far between."


Bernardo's former wife Karla Homolka, seen here in 1993, was released after serving 12 years in prison. Late last year she was said to be living in Quebec. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

While Mandelcorn has never worked with Bernardo, he said it's unlikely he will be able to convince a parole board that he's not at risk to re-offend.

"He's now in a maximum security institution. The normal chain of events is that you have to cascade downwards," he said.

"He needs correctional services' support, he needs halfway house support. At this stage I would very much doubt that he has either."

Julian Fantino, the associate national defence minister, issued a statement saying Bernardo committed "evil and horrific crimes" and should stay behind bars.

"For over forty years in law enforcement I have seen first hand the victimization of innocent lives at the hands of cold-blooded murderers," he said, referring to his former roles as Toronto police chief and Ontario Provincial Police commissioner.

Infamous inmate

Bernardo was one of the most infamous inmates at the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario before it closed in 2013. He was moved to another maximum-security prison, reportedly the Millhaven Institution in Bath, Ont.

His ex-wife Homolka was released from prison after serving a 12-year sentence. In 2012, she was reportedly living in the Caribbean under a different name, with her three children. Late last year, Homolka's sister said she was living in Quebec with her husband.

With files from CBC News