WARNING: This story contains disturbing details.
The lawyer for the families of two of Paul Bernardo’s victims says they have been given no warning or explanation about a recent prison transfer that saw the Ontario serial rapist and killer moved from a maximum-security facility to a medium-security facility, a step what they are against.
Timothy Danson is the attorney for the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, the teenagers kidnapped, sexually assaulted, murdered and dismembered by Bernardo and his then-wife, Karla Homolka, in the early 1990s. Danson says the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) informed him by phone this week that Bernardo had already been transferred from Millhaven Institution in Kingston, Ont., to a medium-security prison in La Macaza, Que., about 125 miles northwest of Montreal.
“I was tasked with communicating this to the families, it’s devastating for them. It brings them back, you know,” Danson said, noting that the families feel disappointed and hurt.
Bernardo, now 58, was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1995 deaths of the girls. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1990 death of Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for the first 25 years. Bernardo began his sentence at Kingston Penitentiary and when it closed he was transferred to Millhaven.
Sadness, despair and disbelief for the families of the victims
Danson says news of the handover means families feel victimized once again.
“This just brings up all the horrible memories they’ve been trying to suppress and control for the past few decades. So it just brings sadness, despair and disbelief to them.”
CSC does not usually comment on offender transfers, but in a statement to CBC, Kevin Antonucci, the acting senior communications adviser, confirmed that Bernardo had been transferred.
Antonucci also assured the public “that this perpetrator is still held in a secure facility, with appropriate security perimeters and controls.”
Bernardo applied for parole twice, once in 2018 and again in 2021. He was denied both times.
Danson says it’s not surprising that CSC informed him of Bernardo’s transfer afterwards.
“What was more troubling is that when I asked questions about why they were making this transfer and on what basis, they relied on Bernardo’s privacy rights not to disclose that information, which I find unacceptable.”
Families demand more transparency, says lawyer
Danson says he and the French and Mahaffy families are demanding more transparency from the corrections system as the administration of justice is in the public interest.
“You know, Paul Bernardo was labeled a dangerous offender, in addition to being convicted of the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment,” he said. “The lack of transparency is exactly how we create suspicion and cynicism among the general public in terms of our criminal justice system.”
Mahaffy of Burlington, Ontario, was 14 in June 1991 when Bernardo and Homolka tortured and murdered her at their home in Port Dalhousie. French, of St. Catharines, Ontario, was 15 when she was held captive for three days and killed in April 1992.
Bernardo was also convicted of manslaughter in 1990 in the death of Karla Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy Homolka. In December 1990, she was drugged, sexually assaulted and died.
Karla Homolka was released in 2005 after pleading guilty to manslaughter and serving 12 years in prison.
Our thoughts are with the families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and all those affected by the heinous crimes of Paul Bernardo.
My statement about his transfer: pic.twitter.com/kPmZhTFSoB
Danson says the families would like to know why the corrections system would determine Bernardo’s eligibility to be transferred to a medium-security facility after he was declared a dangerous offender and twice rejected for parole.
“As part of his sentence, he would have to serve that time in a maximum security federal prison,” Danson said.
John Rosen, Bernardo’s former attorney, told CBC he is no longer representing Bernardo and said that, as far as he knows, he has no legal representation.