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Bernardo to stay in medium-security prison as corrections defends transfer

Corrections commissioner said transfer ‘sound and followed all applicable laws and policies’

The commissioner of Correctional Service Canada said Thursday that serial killer Paul Bernardo will remain in the Quebec medium-security prison he was transferred to earlier this year.

Anne Kelly said a review of the controversial decision to move him out of the maximum-security Millhaven Institution west of Kingston, Ont., concluded it was “sound and followed all applicable laws and policies.”

“The news that this inmate had been transferred from a maximum to a medium-security institution upset many Canadians and I know that many are looking for answers,” Kelly said in Ottawa.

She said she made the “exceptional” move to authorized the release of personal information.

“I believe it is in the public interest to have a better understanding of the reasons why this specific decision was made.”

Bernardo is serving an indeterminate life sentence for the kidnapping, assault and murders of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in the early 1990s near St. Catharines, Ont.

The 85-page review released Thursday shows Bernardo’s security classification was reviewed 14 times between 1999 and 2022, and each time he met the criteria to be moved to a medium-security institution.

It says these results had previously been “overridden” because his high-profile status placed him at a greater safety risk, and most of his interactions with other offenders in maximum-security prison were extremely restricted and controlled.

The review says Bernardo applied to be moved to the medium-security Bath Institution in June 2022, but a security review that found he met the bar for transfer was “overridden” because of his failure to integrate with other inmates.

Bernardo then worked with senior officials at Millhaven to develop an integration plan, the review says, and was “fully integrated” within that prison by July 2022.

He then successfully applied to be moved to the La Macaza Institution in Quebec. That facility offers treatment for sex offenders.

From last July until the transfer in May, “there were no documented incidents or behavioural concerns” reported by staff, the review says.

“Staff at Millhaven Institution reiterated that the ongoing impediment to the offender’s reclassification to medium was his failure to integrate; thus, upon, integration, there were no longer grounds to warrant a maximum security classification.”

The review found that the correctional service followed applicable laws and policies when it came to victim notification, Kelly said.

But it noted that notifying victims’ families the day of Bernardo’s transfer created “surprise and shock.”

The review committee said it “recognized that news of the transfer, including the nature of notification, caused emotional distress for victims.”

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who has faced calls from the Conservatives to resign over his handling of the issue, had said Correctional Service Canada owed Canadians an explanation given the severity of Bernardo’s crimes.

Mendicino had also said he would issue a directive instructing the federal correctional service to ensure the public safety minister is formally and directly notified in advance of the transfer of high-profile or dangerous offenders.

Mendicino has said that he was not been briefed about the transfer until the day after it happened, despite his staff being notified in the months before.

Kelly noted the atmosphere created by Bernardo’s transfer, but reiterated that the Canadian correctional system is fundamentally based on the rehabilitation of offenders.

“Hearing about this case so intensely over the past several weeks has brought up strong emotions and rightly so,” she said at a news conference.

“Crimes that continue to have an immeasurable impact on the victims and their families. We want justice to be served. … We want Canadians to have confidence in our decisions.”

Speaking to reporters at an unrelated event in Kingston, Ont., on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sidestepped direct questions about whether he remains confident in Mendicino, saying only that an MP’s presence in cabinet signals that he has confidence in them.

Trudeau said the concerns of the families of Bernardo’s victims are top of mind for his government, adding the upcoming report from the correctional service would highlight the “thinking and processes” behind his controversial transfer.

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