Families of Paul Bernardo's victims question serial killer's prison transfer
Correctional Service of Canada gave no reason for move to medium security prison, citing privacy law: lawyer
WARNING: This story contains distressing details.
The lawyer for the families of two of Paul Bernardo's victims says they were given no warning or explanation about a recent prison transfer that saw the Ontario serial rapist and murderer moved from a maximum security facility to a medium security prison, a move they oppose.
Timothy Danson is the lawyer for the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, the teens who were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, murdered and dismembered by Bernardo and his then wife, Karla Homolka, in the early 1990s. Danson says the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) informed him by phone this week that Bernardo had already been moved from Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont., to a medium security prison in La Macaza, Que., about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal.
"I had the task of communicating this to the families, it's devastating to them. It takes them back, you know," said Danson, noting that the families feel disappointed and hurt.
Bernardo, now 58, was convicted of first-degree murder in the girls' deaths in 1995. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1990 death of Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the first 25 years. Bernardo began his sentence at the Kingston Penitentiary, and when it was closed he was transferred to Millhaven.
Sadness, despair and disbelief for victims' families
Danson says news of the transfer means the families feel victimized all over again.
"This just brings back all the horrible memories that they've been trying to suppress and control over these last number of decades. So it just brings sadness and despair and disbelief to them."
CSC usually does not comment on offender transfers, but in a statement to CBC, Kevin Antonucci, the acting senior communications advisor, confirmed that Bernardo had been transferred.
Antonucci also assured the public "that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure institution, with appropriate security perimeters and controls in place."
Bernardo applied for parole twice, once in 2018 and again in 2021. He was denied both times.
Danson says CSC informing him of Bernardo's transfer after the fact is not surprising.
"What was more disturbing is that when I was asking questions about why they were making this transfer and on what basis, they relied on Bernardo's privacy rights not to disclose that information, which I find unacceptable."
Families demand greater transparency, lawyer says
Danson says he and the French and Mahaffy families are demanding greater transparency from the corrections system since the administration of justice is in the public interest.
"You know, Paul Bernardo was designated a dangerous offender in addition to being convicted for the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment," he said. "The lack of transparency is exactly how we create suspicion and cynicism in the general public in terms of our criminal justice system."
Mahaffy of Burlington, Ont., was 14 in June 1991 when Bernardo and Homolka tortured and killed her at their Port Dalhousie home. French, of St. Catharines, Ont., was 15 when she was held captive for three days and killed in April 1992.
Bernardo was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1990 death of Tammy Homolka, Karla Homolka's 15-year-old sister. In December 1990, she was drugged, sexually assaulted and died.
Karla Homolka was released in 2005 after pleading guilty to manslaughter and serving 12 years in prison.
Our thoughts are with the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and everyone affected by Paul Bernardo's horrific crimes. <br><br>My statement on his transfer: <a href="https://t.co/kPmZhTFSoB">pic.twitter.com/kPmZhTFSoB</a>—@marcomendicino
Danson says the families would like to know why the corrections system would determine that Bernardo was eligible to be transferred to a medium security institution after he was declared a dangerous offender and twice turned down for parole.
"As part of his punishment, he should be serving that time in a maximum security federal penitentiary," said Danson.
John Rosen, Bernardo's former lawyer, told CBC he no longer represents Bernardo and said that to his knowledge, he has no legal representation.