Canadians Express Outrage Over Bernardo’s Transfer to Medium-Security Prison

Families of Bernardo's Victims Seek Access to Records Ahead of Parole Hearings
Paul Bernardo sits in the back of a police cruiser as he leaves a hearing in St. Catharines, Ont., April 5, 1994. The federal public safety minister says reports of teen killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo being transferred to a medium-security prison are “shocking and incomprehensible.” THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Canadians from various parts of the country have expressed their shock and anger in response to the transfer of serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with key cabinet ministers, was inundated with emails in the aftermath of the controversial move.

According to CBC News, who obtained the information through the Access to Information Act, a 400-word document showed numerous messages from horrified, shocked, and disgusted Canadians. A significant number of those who reached out stated that Bernardo’s heinous crimes had irrevocably affected their lives.

An Ontario resident, identifying as a “loyal Liberal supporter,” passionately wrote, “Any persons at Corrections Canada who made such a misguided decision should be forced to watch the Bernardo tapes in all their horrific detail, as were the jury members who were unfortunate enough to be assigned to his case.”

There were also poignant revelations about the lingering trauma Bernardo’s crimes caused. One individual recounted a personal connection to a jury member, stating, “I have a personal friend who was on that jury and she remains traumatized nearly 30 years later. She tells me that several of the jury members meet regularly for psychological support even to this day.”

CBC News also highlighted the astounding fact that staff in the then-public safety minister Marco Mendicino’s office knew of Bernardo’s prison transfer three months prior. However, Mendicino claimed he was kept in the dark until after the transfer. This revelation led to a series of political repercussions, including Mendicino issuing a directive mandating that registered victims be notified in advance of such transfers. Following this, Mendicino was removed from Trudeau’s cabinet later that summer.

Kristen French was 15 and Leslie Mahaffy was 14 when Paul Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and killed them. (Handout/The Canadian Press)

Many of the emails came from residents of areas like St. Catharines and Scarborough in Ontario, locations where Bernardo carried out his crimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. A particularly heart-wrenching account came from someone who recalled the terror of potentially encountering the “Scarborough rapist” while commuting from high school. The same individual remembered the sorrow of learning about the abductions of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French, noting that they were the same age at the time.

Paul Bernardo is currently serving a life sentence for the kidnapping, sexual assault, and murder of Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French in the 1990s. Additionally, he was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka, his sister-in-law. His ex-wife, Karla Homolka, served a 12-year sentence for her involvement in his crimes.

Despite the overwhelming negative response, not all feedback was against the transfer. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS), which champions the rights of those in the corrections system, expressed concern over the harmful narrative surrounding the situation, attributing some of it to “the Conservative Party.”

The Correctional Service of Canada, in its response to the flood of emails, emphasized their commitment to public safety, victims’ rights, and adherence to the rule of law. Jay Pyke, the acting senior deputy commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, addressed the gravity of Bernardo’s crimes, expressing regret over the distress caused.

A review committee subsequently deduced that while the Correctional Service of Canada was within its legal rights to approve Bernardo’s transfer, they could have offered victims’ families more advanced warning. According to a representative for the French and Mahaffy families, Bernardo’s next parole hearing, initially slated for this month, has been rescheduled to February.