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Public safety minister sidesteps questions about returning Paul Bernardo to maximum security prison

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday the Correctional Service Canada’s decision to transfer convicted murderer Paul Bernardo to a prison with fewer restrictions “does not sit well” with Canadians — but he stopped short of saying he would attempt to force the agency to reverse course in the face of public outrage.

Minister under fire for prison agency’s decision to transfer killer to a prison with fewer restrictions.

Public Safety Marco Mendicino wipes his brow after an appearance at a Commons committee meeting.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said Thursday the Correctional Service Canada’s decision to transfer convicted murderer Paul Bernardo to a prison with fewer restrictions “does not sit well” with Canadians — but he stopped short of saying he would attempt to force the agency to reverse course in the face of public outrage.

Pressed by reporters to say if he’d intervene and somehow move Bernardo back to a maximum-security prison, Mendicino said he spoke to the CSC commissioner and expressed his “concerns on behalf of Canadians.”

He said he told the commissioner, Anne Kelly, that the decision would inevitably “spark the backlash that you now see.”

“I believe the decision does not sit well with Canadians. It is an affront to the victims and that is why we are going to support them. We’re going to make sure victims’ rights are at the centre of these decisions,” Mendicino told reporters, touting a new ministerial directive that will require CSC to better liaise with the families of crime victims before making a transfer of this kind.

While it’s not clear that Mendicino has the legal authority to reverse CSC’s transfer decision, the opposition Conservatives have been calling on the Toronto-area minister to do something.

Marco Mendocino sidesteps questions about Bernardo transfer

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendocino avoided questions from reporters on why he was not told about the prison transfer of serial killer Paul Bernardo and whether anyone would be held accountable. He also rejected continued calls to resign from opposition MPs.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Mendicino should issue a directive or an order-in-council — a cabinet decree — to the CSC commissioner requiring that those convicted of multiple first-degree murders be kept in maximum security for the duration of their sentences.

“Conservatives, like all Canadians, were shocked to learn that the vile serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo, one of the most evil monsters in Canadian history, had been moved from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility,” Poilievre said.

“This is outrageous. He should rot in a maximum-security prison for the rest of his life.”

Conservative MP Tony Baldinelli — who represents Ontario’s Niagara region, where some of Bernardo’s crimes were carried out — has introduced a private member’s bill that, if passed, would require that “mass murderers be permanently assigned a maximum-security classification.”

“Monsters like Paul Bernardo are getting out of maximum-security prisons because of soft-on-crime Liberal legislation,” Baldinelli said when introducing his bill, C-342.

In question period Thursday, Poilievre asked the Liberal government to ignore standard parliamentary procedure and pass the bill through the Commons on a voice vote — a measure he said would put Bernardo back where he belongs.

Calling Bernardo’s crimes “despicable” and “unspeakable,” Government House leader Mark Holland accused Conservatives of unfairly “politicizing” Canada’s correctional services.

“We need a mature conversation. CSC is independent. It can’t be interfered with politically,” Holland said.

While the government has been tight-lipped about Bernardo’s future, CSC has already struck a three-person committee to review his transfer.

In a media statement, a spokesperson for the CSC said the committee “will examine the appropriateness of [Bernardo’s] security classification and transfer to a medium-security facility, review victims’ considerations and notifications, and whether the legislative and policy framework was followed in this case. It will also look at any other relevant considerations specific to this case.”

Holland said a decision on Bernardo’s future is best left to the CSC.

The agency’s internal review of the Bernardo matter will be done in two weeks’ time, he said. “I suggest we take a look at that,” he added.

CSC’s decision to move Bernardo — arguably the country’s most notorious killer and serial rapist — to a medium-security institution in Quebec has been a source of controversy in recent days.

Convicted killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo in a courtroom sketch from 2018.

CSC has defended the transfer in the face of political heat. In a statement sent to CBC News, the prison agency said Bernardo “could be safely managed in a medium-security institution.”

“The fact that an offender is in medium security does not mean they are being ‘fast-tracked’ through the federal correctional system. An offender can still be a high public safety risk, yet CSC can effectively and safely manage them in a medium security setting,” a spokesperson said.

Poilievre has called for Mendicino to resign over the matter. He’s said that if Mendicino doesn’t resign, Trudeau should fire him.

Poilievre calls for Mendicino to resign

Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilievre calls for Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino to resign following a CBC News exclusive that says staff in the minister’s office were notified of Paul Bernardo’s prison transfer months in advance.

Mendicino has said he will not step aside but will press ahead with a plan to change how transfers are communicated.

Bernardo was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for the killings of Leslie Mahaffy and Kristen French.

He was also convicted of manslaughter for his role in the death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the first 25 years.

The families of Mahaffy and French have said they weren’t told about the move in advance.

CBC News also has reported that Mendicino’s staff knew for months that Bernardo’s transfer was imminent but failed to tell the minister until the day after the killer’s move to a medium-security prison.

Staff in the Prime Minister’s Office were also privy to details about Bernardo’s move but did not tell the prime minister personally.

Asked about the apparent lapse, Mendicino said Thursday he’s taken “corrective actions internally” and has told his staff that he should have been briefed about the transfer of a high-profile inmate like Bernardo.

“Look, it is very clear I should have been briefed at the time. That’s something I made abundantly clear to my staff. These issues have been identified and corrected. That’s what I’ve done to ensure there’s no further breakdown,” he said, dodging questions about whether he’s fired anyone who concealed information about the move.

Conservative leader calls for public safety minister to resign

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has called for the resignation of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino after his office was told serial killer Paul Bernardo was moved from maximum to medium-security prison — three months before the transfer happened.

While Mendicino has been under fire from victim advocates and political opponents, an association representing prisoner advocates said Thursday Mendicino’s comments on the transfer have been “inappropriate.”

Tom Engel, president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, said Mendicino shouldn’t “comment on a specific decision” and described the minister’s comments on the transfer to date as a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“We do not choose a person’s security level based solely on the severity of their offences and we certainly do not keep them in maximum security based on this factor alone,” Engel said in a statement.

Engel said that, under the law, security classifications must not be based on “vengeance, public outrage or popular opinion” but rather on a criminal’s “institutional adjustment,” escape risk and public safety.

Suggesting Bernardo should be kept in a maximum-security institution “reveals a disturbing lack of understanding of Canada’s carceral system and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Engel said.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC’s parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at


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