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'Absolutely no talk' of moving Paul Bernardo to minimum security: corrections head

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OTTAWA -

There is "absolutely no talk" of moving notorious killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo to an even lower security level, following his transfer into a medium-security prison, the commissioner of Correctional Service Canada testified on Monday.

Anne Kelly appeared before a parliamentary committee to discuss the correctional service's decision to move Bernardo out of maximum-security prison in late May and into a medium-security institution.

The move set off a politician firestorm, with federal Conservatives demanding that the Liberal government ensure his return to maximum security.

But the federal government maintained that the decision to transfer him was made by the independent prison authority and politicians could not interfere.

Kelly told members of Parliament that inmate transfers are common within the prison system, and those incarcerated are allowed to request to be moved.

In Bernardo's case, a review of the decision to transfer him released in July found officials followed proper policies, and said Bernardo had long met the criteria to be reclassified as a medium-security prisoner but was only moved after he proved he could fully integrate with other inmates.

"I can understand, again, this particular transfer evokes strong emotions," Kelly said Monday.

"And rightly so."

Bernardo, who is designated as a dangerous offender, is serving an indeterminate life-sentence for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in the early 1990s near St. Catharines, Ont.

He was also convicted of manslaughter in the December 1990 death of his then-wife Karla Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy.

Homolka pleaded guilty to manslaughter for her role in the crimes against French and Mahaffy, and received a 12-year sentence. She was released from prison in 2005.

Bernardo has also admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women.

His next parole hearing is scheduled for February 2024, the legal counsel for the French and Mahaffy families told The Canadian Press last month.

Many Canadians who were outraged over his transfer out of maximum security wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau soon after it happened, some telling his office that they remember the fear Bernardo caused, and they are still haunted by the details of his crimes more than 30 years later.

Kelly told Monday's committee that, at this point, "there's absolutely no talk" of moving Bernardo to "a lower security level."

She said inmates who are categorized as posing a high risk to public safety cannot be moved into minimum security. That includes Bernardo.

"He committed absolutely horrific crimes," Kelly said.

"The other thing I would say is Paul Bernardo spent 30 consecutive years in maximum security."

She reiterated to MPs that Bernardo is kept in the same perimeter as he was in maximum security, and that the main difference between the two institutions is that in a medium-security prison, the movement of inmates is not as tightly controlled as that of those in maximum.

"Minimum is not on the radar," she asserted.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 27, 2023.

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