Minister says he was 'shocked' by serial killer Paul Bernardo's prison transfer — but he can't reverse it

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he was "shocked" by the Correctional Service of Canada's (CSC) decision to transfer serial killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison — but he insists his office cannot overrule it.

Marco Mendicino says his office cannot intervene in an 'independent' decision

Outrage over Paul Bernardo’s transfer to medium security prison

4 months ago
Duration 2:47
Canada’s prison service is now reviewing its decision to move notorious serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo from a maximum-security prison to a medium security facility. The transfer has sparked outrage across Canada’s political landscape. Bernardo is serving a life sentence for the murders of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in the early 1990s.

Federal Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he was "shocked" by the Correctional Service of Canada's (CSC) decision to transfer serial killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison — but he insists his office cannot overrule it.

Mendicino told reporters Monday that he spoke to CSC commissioner Anne Kelly that morning. She promised to review the decision and report back to him in short order, Mendicino said.

"I told her that as a former federal prosecutor and as a Canadian, that I was profoundly concerned and again shocked by this decision," he said. "She assured me that she understood. She also assured me that she was going to be reviewing the matter."

Mendicino said his hands are tied because Correctional Service of Canada decisions on transfers are independent of his office.

"This office cannot exercise any review powers over that decision," he said.

WATCH | Public safety minister reacts to Paul Bernardo's transfer: 

Paul Bernardo's prison transfer a Corrections Canada decision, minister says

4 months ago
Duration 2:52
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he spoke to Corrections Canada's commissioner about the recent transfer of Paul Bernardo, an Ontario serial rapist and murderer, to a medium security prison.

In a statement, CSC confirmed that the commissioner has "ordered an additional review of this offender's security classification to ensure it was appropriate, evidence-based and more importantly, adequately considered victims."

News reports emerged last week that Bernardo had been transferred from the maximum-security Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont., to a medium-security prison in La Macaza, Que., about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

A lawyer acting for the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy — two teens who were kidnapped, sexually assaulted, murdered and dismembered by Bernardo and his then wife, Karla Homolka, in the early 1990s — told CBC that the news was "devastating" for them.

CSC did not explain precisely why the decision was made. Its statement spoke only generally of the factors involved in moving prisoners between security levels, such as the risk to public safety and risk of escape. It stressed that Bernardo, a dangerous offender serving an indeterminate sentence, is still under tight control.

"Dangerous offenders are closely monitored. It is important to know that medium security facilities have the same perimeter controls as maximum security institutions," the statement said.

Bernardo was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for the killings of Mahaffy and French. He was also convicted of manslaughter for his role in the death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka.

Convicted killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo in a courtroom sketch from 2018.
Paul Bernardo is shown in this courtroom sketch during Ontario court proceedings via video link in Napanee, Ont., on Oct. 5, 2018. Despite being denied parole twice, Correctional Service of Canada confirmed that Bernardo was transferred from a maximum security facility in Ontario to a medium security prison in Quebec. (Greg Banning/The Canadian Press)

Mendicino called him one of the most heinous criminals in Canadian history. While he said Canadians are owed an explanation for the transfer, he did not provide one, adding there are privacy concerns at play.

"The courts assured Canadians that he would serve out his days in a maximum security institution under the most strenuous conditions, given how horrific the crimes were that he perpetrated on women and young girls," the minister said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre condemned what he called the "terrible decision" to transfer Bernardo and called on the government to "review any powers it has to reverse this ridiculous decision."

"Mr. Bernardo is a monster and should remain in a maximum security prison," Poilievre said.

Poilievre's staff pointed to provisions in the Corrections and Conditional Release Act to argue that Mendicino could act if he wanted to. Specifically, the law states the CSC commissioner works under his "direction."

The law also allows the government to pass regulations relating to the placement and transfer of prisoners.


Arthur White-Crummey is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He has previously worked as a reporter in Saskatchewan covering the courts, city hall and the provincial legislature. You can reach him at arthur.white-crummey@cbc.ca.