An email from the Canadian Corrections Service (CSC) shows that officials worry that if news of notorious serial killer Paul Bernardo’s prison transfer is complete, it will “start a circus” if the news spreads to family and others.
Global News received a series of internal CSC emails via an information access request. It detailed internal conversations about transferring Bernardo from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility and plans for how and when to notify the victim’s family.
In an email exchange between two CSC officials on 6 April (both names redacted), Bernardo spoke of being informed of an upcoming transfer. The first official then asked when the victim’s family would be notified and if they had to be notified a certain number of days before the transfer.
A second official said the transfer to a minimum-security prison would only require advance notice and that Bernardo’s victim’s family would be notified once the transfer was complete.
“Oh, good. I was afraid the circus would start before the deportation,” replied the first official.
“No, he will be assigned to someone else by the time it reaches fans,” the second insider wrote.
Emails show that CSC staff had discussed avoiding sensitive dates in preparation for the move. This included the birth and death dates of Kristen French (May 10 and April 19) and Leslie Mahaffey (July 5 and June 15).
In an April 11 e-mail exchange discussing the future transfer, it was noted that “this will have a strong negative reaction from the victims and the media.”
The next day, April 12, the CSC email confirmed that the prison transfer date was May 29.
Authorities eventually decided that the transfer would be by vehicle, a four-and-a-half-hour drive without scheduled stops between Milhaven Prison in Ontario and the La Macaza facility in Quebec, with Bernardo as the only prisoner on board.
The emails show that there was a discussion leading up to Bernardo’s transfer over a “mechanism to notify victims before the transfer occurred.”
Paul Bernardo prison transfer had to remain ‘low profile’, officials say
On May 26, one of the Regional CSC Administrators in Communications and Government Services emailed the CSC’s Director of Public Engagement to express his concerns.
The regional administrator wrote that he was concerned about giving advance notice in Bernardo’s case given that, in line with the agency’s policy, the agency had previously received “unsubstantiated” but “defensible” informal complaints from victims notified after their transfer.
The policy does not require victims to be notified in advance of the transfer, but states that in high-profile or sensitive scenarios, victims can be given “warnings” at their discretion.
“While we understand the sympathy and decision making regarding this particular incident, we would like to be able to deploy a VSU (Victim Service Unit) to defend any potential questions that may arise from other victims,” the regional administrator wrote.
The manager and director then discussed phone arrangements.
Earlier emails obtained by Global News under the Access to Information Act showed corrections officials stating the need to “disguise” the news of the transfer.
How did Bernardo’s transfer day play out?
CSC Director Anne Kelly announced Thursday the results of a review of the murderer’s transfer, finding the decision “sound” despite public and political outcry questioning the transfer of the killer from a high-security prison to a medium-security prison.
Bernardo, 58, is serving a life sentence for kidnapping, torturing and murdering teens Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffey in the early 1990s. He and his then-wife Karla Homolka also murdered his sister Tammy Homolka.
According to the CSC review, Bernardo applied for a transfer and after being integrated with other inmates at the Millhaven facility, his request was granted and the details of his transfer to La Macaza, Quebec began to be arranged.
The director of the Millhaven facility said the Victim Services Department was informed of the proposed transfer on January 6, 2023.
Bernardo moved on 29 May and news of the transfer broke out on 2 June.
Paul Bernardo prison transfer had to remain ‘low profile’, officials say
On the morning of the transfer, an email was sent at 8:44 a.m. Eastern confirming that Bernardo had officially left Millhaven.
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At 9:06 a.m., he received a “nondescript voicemail” from CSC, according to Tim Danson, an attorney for the French and Mahaffey families. He said it was just a message that he had important information, and that he didn’t hear the message until later that afternoon after receiving a second voicemail at 1:48 p.m.
At 9:13 a.m., according to documents obtained by Global News, the regional manager and the director, who were discussing concerns about early notification of victims, had an e-mail exchange saying that the alleged “he” could not be reached and was waiting for several minutes to see if he would call back.
This seems to refer to Danson, but the attorney’s name is not mentioned.
Five minutes later, a decision is made to make the rest of the calls to the victim’s family unless “he” calls back by 9:30 a.m.
A redacted CSC official then sent an email to the agency’s director and victim services officer to inform them that “the killer has arrived” at 1:45 p.m. and that Bernardo had arrived at La Macaza.
At 3:28 PM, an email was sent to the communications team informing them that the victim’s notification had been completed.
The script provided to the communications team for the “reminder” call was compiled at ATIP, but staff were instructed to communicate that Bernardo was moving out of state, according to the transfer review, but other details could not be shared in accordance with policy.
The review adds that it could be shared that “if pressed” Bernardo would end up in a medium security facility with the same double sided perimeter fence.
A second hospital transfer notice was issued, claiming to be La Macaza Institute.
Paul Bernardo transfer: ‘If I become Prime Minister, I will overturn this’, insists Poivre
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have faced political pressure over how to handle the case, but they face questions about why they explain that officials were not informed until the day and day of the transfer, respectively, when they had been briefed months earlier.
Danson, on behalf of the French and Mahaffey’s family, called on the government to change a law he described as “shocking” and “incomprehensible” on how to deal with Canada’s most dangerous criminals.
Specifically, Danson argued that the requirement that prisons be “minimum restrictions” on criminals was wrong. This cannot be a one-size-fits-all standard, he says.
Bernardo was diagnosed with psychopathic tendencies throughout his time in the justice system, and the sentencing judge said his chances of rehabilitation were “extremely unlikely.”
Danson writes that the hallmark of psychopathy is that it is manipulative, and in this case different criteria should apply.
The prison transfer was approved based on Bernardo’s successful integration with the wider prison population.
This was the rationale Danson called “weak”, saying Bernardo was a coward who only attacked “innocent and defenseless” teenage girls and young women, not prison guards.
Danson also takes issue with the allegation that Bernardo’s right to privacy took precedence over the victim’s family in the case and that the government needs to reassess the transparency of the corrections and parole system.
Shortly after announcing the review, Mr. Mendicino issued a ministerial order directing the CSC to notify the Secretariat directly of any future high-profile prisoner transfers.
— with file from Amanda Connolly of Global News.