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Bernardo's prison transfer 'slap in the face' for victims' families, Tori Stafford's father says

The decision by the Correctional Service of Canada to move serial rapist and killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security prison has sparked outrage across the country and opened old wounds for the family of Tori Stafford.

Eight-year-old Tori was kidnapped, murdered and raped in 2009. Her father, Rodney Stafford, says Bernardo's transfer has re-victimized him and his family.

“It’s just another slap in the face for more Canadian families,” he said in an interview outside his Woodstock, Ont., home.

Like Bernardo, Tori's killers, Michael Rafferty and Terri-Lynne McClintic, were transferred to lower-security prisons after they served several years of life sentences for first-degree murder. 

In 2018, McClintic was briefly transferred to an Indigenous healing lodge in Saskatchewan. However, two months later, she was sent to a multi-level federal women's prison following an outcry over the transfer.

Rafferty also initially served his sentence in a maximum-security prison in Port-Cartier, Que., but in 2018 he was moved to a medium-security prison in La Macaza; the same facility Bernardo was recently sent to.

“Here we are, four-and-a-half years later, and now we have two more cases, extremely high-profile cases, that are going through the exact same thing that my family went through with the lowering of security,” Stafford said.

Bernardo was quietly transferred from Millhaven Institution in Ontario to La Macaza Institution in Quebec last week, a prison that can house up to 240 inmates and is built on an “open campus model,” according to the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC). The lawyer for the families of Bernardo’s victims was informed after the transfer had taken place and given little information about the reasons behind the move.

“I was actually met with silence,” lawyer Tim Danson says the reaction when he told the families of Bernardo’s victims that he’d been transferred. “That silence was utter shock, utter disbelief.”

Bernardo was convicted in 1995 of kidnapping, raping and murdering Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. Sentenced to life in prison, he is designated a dangerous offender and is currently serving an indeterminate sentence with no end date.

The CSC has provided no explanation as to why Bernardo was transferred, citing his privacy rights.

“To talk about Paul Bernardo’s privacy rights as if his privacy rights are the same as every other Canadian is rather offensive to me,” Danson said, echoing calls for sweeping changes to the way information about inmates is communicated to victims’ families.

Earlier this year, a federal appellate court heard arguments led by the Toronto Police Association that could result in incarceration records and parole hearing audio for convicted murderers made public. A decision in that case has not yet been made.

In the face of mounting public backlash, the CSC has promised to review the Bernardo decision. In a statement, the organization says it is “in the process of striking a three-person committee, which will include external representation, to conduct the review.” Once that committee is in place, the review is expected to take “a couple of weeks” to complete.

When asked if any changes will be made at the CSC, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he is waiting for the review.

“I think there is a very strong point of view among Canadians that this decision defies explanation,” he said, adding he has spoken with CSC Commissioner Anne Kelly. “I’ve made it very clear that this decision is shocking and incomprehensible and I took the opportunity to communicate that to her.”

But criminologist Anthony Doob says the transfer of Bernardo, while unpopular, is not “incomprehensible.”

“It’s quite normal that people would be moved from maximum to medium,” Doob said. “This has nothing to do with ultimate release from penitentiary, that’s a completely separate thing. And I would not see this as a step toward release. It’s a step down from the highest level of security to the normal medium security. That’s all this is.”

Prisoners in maximum-security are typically held there for two years before being transferred to a medium-security facility. Bernardo had been held in maximum security for 30 years.

Doob also notes that broadly speaking, the mandate of the CSC is to rehabilitate prisoners for their eventual release to society. And while he doubts Bernardo will ever be released, he says the CSC’s approach doesn’t change no matter how reprehensible the crime, or criminal, may be.

“Bernardo, my guess is, will never be released,” Doob says. “But most prisoners will be, and it’s (CSC’s) responsibility to make them into people who can be released.”

Bernardo’s move, though, has been shrouded in secrecy, which Danson says jeopardizes the public trust in the criminal justice system.

“Justice has to be done publicly and transparently,” Danson says.

It’s not clear whether Bernardo will have additional privileges while incarcerated at La Macaza, which is also a point of contention for Danson.

“There is a punishment factor here,” he says. “To see him getting these benefits and they won’t even tell us why? They don’t want us to know their criteria.”

Stafford also wants more transparency about the incarceration of his daughter’s killers, especially when they become eligible for parole.

He knows there’s a chance one or both could one day be released, but until then, he says, victims’ families deserve more respect.

“The victim families, we don't have any rights,” Stafford says. “They’ve been eliminated.” Top Stories

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