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Magnotta transfer to medium-security prison prompts MPs to call corrections head, warden to testify

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MPs agreed on Monday to launch a limited new parliamentary examination of Canada's prison transfer policies, in light of the new attention around the 2022 decision to transfer notorious Canadian killer Luka Magnotta from a maximum- to medium-security prison.

MPs on the House of Commons Public Safety and National Security Committee will call Correctional Services Canada commissioner Anne Kelly, as well as the warden of the La Macaza Institution in Quebec to discuss the decision to transfer Magnotta and the process surrounding the transfer.

The decision to hold one special hearing on the subject was a deviation from the initial plan as proposed by the Conservatives — and initially supported by the Liberals — to embark on a broader study that would have included testimony from more than one dozen officials and interest groups. 

The debate over how to proceed played out during an emergency meeting of the committee during a House break week. After two hours of deliberation over a series of amendments, ultimately a pared-down motion narrowly passed, without Conservative or NDP support.

Magnotta's incarceration was brought back into political discourse last week when Conservative MP Frank Caputo posted a video to X, detailing his visit to the Quebec medium-security prison La Macaza to see high-profile killer Paul Bernardo's living conditions.

While touring the institution, Caputo said, "one of the guards commented that Luka Magnotta walked right by (him)."

Correctional Service Canada (CSC) then confirmed to media that Magnotta had been transferred from the maximum-security Port-Cartier Institution to a medium-security facility in 2022, without confirming which prison.

Forty-one-year-old Magnotta is serving a life sentence for the gruesome 2012 murder of Chinese international student Jun Lin in Montreal.

"This offender has been securely behind bars for close to a decade," CSC spokesperson Kevin Antonucci said in a statement. "They continue to be in a secure institution, serving an indeterminate sentence."

Bernardo's transfer from the maximum-security Ontario Millhaven Institution sparked a fury of political controversy last summer after the transfer was largely kept under wraps within the government until it occurred. 

The 59-year-old is serving an indeterminate life sentence after being convicted in 1995 for the kidnap, rape, torture and murder of two teenagers — Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy — in the early 1990s near St. Catharines, Ont. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the death of Tammy Homolka.

Amid moments of partisan sniping during Monday's emergency meeting, Conservative MPs took issue with what they have characterized as the pair of "sadistic" killers being granted access to certain activities and facilities, while the Liberals expressed hope that the study would remain centred around the substance of the issue rather than the sensational.

"I think most Canadians were shocked at the transfer of Paul Bernardo, and I feel similarly Canadians are also shocked to find out that Luka Magnotta and others are not only in medium security, but also in the same penitentiary," Caputo said.

Conservatives, suggesting the committee needs to "get to the bottom" of the impact of various Liberal justice policies, also wanted to examine ministerial accountability. They had proposed to call the current and former public safety ministers, as well as the chief of staff when Magnotta's transfer took place.

Last week, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc's office said decisions about the security level of inmates is up to CSC, independently, with safety of the public a "foremost consideration."

Liberal MP Jennifer O'Connell initially told the committee that while she had no issue looking further into prison transfers — proposing to add a series of additional witnesses including the John Howard and Elizabeth Fry societies — she wanted it noted that "some of the highest years of prisoner classification changes from maximum to medium were under the Harper Conservative government."

She and other Liberal MPs then opted to vote for a narrower version of a study proposed by Bloc MP Kristina Michaud, which drills down on the Magnotta matter with an added emphasis on medical and psychiatric assessments.

In January 2022, Magnotta's lawyers filed documents in Federal Court, hoping to compel a transfer from the maximum-security prison in Quebec to a medium-security facility, claiming CSC had denied a request made the previous summer.

"What concerns me in Magnotta's transfer is that he had requested transfers several times in the past and had been denied," Michaud said. She went on to cite reporting not verified by CTV News regarding Magnotta identifying as transgender and there being an assessment from a team at McGill University that was skeptical about this declaration.

The committee has agreed to seek testimony from these McGill officials to, as Michaud said, "find out if there's a loophole in the psychological or psychiatric assessment that was done."

While the Conservatives expressed outrage over what they saw as the Bloc gutting their initial proposal, Michaud gave Caputo credit for his work on the issue, noting had he not gone to visit La Macaza, "we would not be here today."

In deciding not to make this one meeting a priority over its outstanding work, it remains to be seen when this Magnotta-specific hearing will be scheduled.

With files from CTV News' Spencer Van Dyk

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