“He’s been transferred from Millhaven to a medium penitentiary in Quebec,” Tim Danson, lawyer for the French and Mahaffy families, told Global News on Friday.
“For the (victims’) families, it’s very, very distressing.”
Danson and a source with knowledge of the transfer both said Bernardo was moved from maximum-security prison Millhaven Institution, located approximately 20 kilometres west of Kingston, Ont., to La Macaza in Quebec.
The source, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly, said La Macaza, in Quebec’s Laurentians, is a prison for sexual offenders and those at risk of being harmed by other inmates, and told Global News they believed the move was done “secretly.”
A spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada would not comment “on the specifics of an offender’s case,” but stressed that “this offender” is serving an indeterminate sentence, meaning there is no end date to the sentence.
“Public Safety is the paramount consideration in every decision made by the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC),” an emailed statement reads.
“We assure the public that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure institution, with appropriate security perimeters and controls in place.”
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, in a statement Friday evening, called the transfer “shocking and incomprehensible” and vowed to address the decision-making process with CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly.
“Our thoughts are with the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and all those affected by these horrific crimes,” Mendicino said. “We stand with them, and all Canadians who are rightfully appalled by this move.”
Our thoughts are with the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and everyone affected by Paul Bernardo's horrific crimes.
My statement on his transfer: pic.twitter.com/kPmZhTFSoB
— Marco Mendicino (@marcomendicino) June 3, 2023
Bernardo has repeatedly sought and been denied parole since his conviction, with his next hearing set for November 2023. Danson said the timing makes the transfer worse for families.
“A situation like this, just as it is when we’re preparing for parole hearings … it kind of transports the families back to the beginning and it kind of ignites all the horrible feelings, you know, that they’ve been trying to address and deal with and get on with life,” he said.
“It just tears them apart. There’s just a high level of pain and sadness and despair and anguish.”
Danson said that, as counsel for the families, he was notified about Bernardo’s move after the fact.
“The call isn’t to say it’s going to happen on a certain day and time. The call is that it just occurred.”
He added that he asked Correctional Service Canada (CSC) what the basis was for the decision to move Bernardo but did not receive an answer. He also inquired about whether Bernardo would be in segregation or protective custody or on a particular range.
“None of that would be answered. We don’t know anything other than them saying that, ‘Well, there’s a criteria that we have in Corrections Canada and he met it and so we moved him.'”
He says he stressed to Correctional Service Canada that if Bernardo ever were to escape, there would be a serious risk to public safety, but he was assured that “medium security is still significant security.”
“But, you know, that’s not really the point. This individual committed unspeakable crimes against innocent children, teenage girls.”
Bernardo’s sex crimes over several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, some of which he videotaped and which formed part of the evidence against him in court, sparked widespread terror and revulsion.
Among his acts, he and his then-wife Karla Homolka kidnapped, tortured and killed Mahaffy, of Burlington, Ont., in June 1991 at their home in Port Dalhousie, Ont., before dumping her cement-encased remains in a nearby lake.
They similarly kidnapped and, after ignoring her agonized pleas over three days, killed Kristen French in April 1992.
Bernardo ultimately admitted to raping 14 other women. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the December 1990 death of Homolka’s younger sister, Tammy. The 15-year-old girl died after the pair drugged and sexually assaulted her.
Homolka pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served a 12-year prison sentence before release in 2005. She went on to remarry and become a mother.
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton The Canadian Press’s Colin Perkel.
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