Prison transfer of killer Paul Bernardo shocks family of his Burlington victim

Published June 5, 2023 at 6:09 pm

paul bernardo
Paul Bernardo as seen on his way to court in the 1990s. Photo: Frank Gunn, The Canadian Press.

The family of Burlington’s Leslie Mahaffy is “shocked” that her killer — the infamous Paul Bernardo — has been moved from his maximum-security jail cell to the friendlier confines of a medium-security facility.

Tim Danson, lawyer for the families of two of Bernardo’s victims, Mahaffy and Kristen French, said the move and the controversy surrounding it has brought up decades of anguish and grief.

Bernardo has been serving a life sentence for kidnapping, torturing and killing 14-year-old Mahaffy and 15-year-old French in the early 1990s.

Citing prison union officials and the lawyer for the victims’ families, multiple media outlets say Bernardo was quietly transferred last week to the medium-security La Macaza Institution, about 190 kilometres northwest of Montreal.

He was initially incarcerated at the Kingston Penitentiary in Ontario and later spent about a decade at the Millhaven Institution, a maximum security prison just outside Kingston.

Danson said Bernardo should be returned to a maximum-security prison and he called on Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) to be more transparent about what led to his transfer to a medium-security facility in the first place.

Citing Bernardo’s privacy rights CSC has refused to answer questions about the reason for the transfer.

Danson said he was also unable to learn whether the serial murderer and sex offender was in protective custody or socializing with other inmates, which the new security classification allows.

“This is one of Canada’s most notorious, sadistic, psychopathic killers,” he told The Canadian Press.

“We need the public in masses, in millions, to be writing to the minister, to the commissioner of corrections, and to the members of Parliament, to express their outrage over this — that secrecy will not work. We want transparency.”

Danson said he was pleased to see a statement from Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino on Friday, in which he called Bernardo’s transfer “shocking and incomprehensible.”

“But now we need action,” Danson added.

Leslie Mahaffy


Danson said the French and Mahaffy families were shocked to hear of Bernardo’s transfer without explanation.

“Then for me to have to tell them as their lawyer and their friend, ‘I’m afraid I have no answers for you because of Bernardo’s privacy rights,'” he said.

“Of course, their response is the one that you would expect: ‘What about the rights of Kristen? What about the rights of Leslie? What about their rights?”

“These are questions I can’t answer other than just to agree with them and share in their despair, Danson said.”

Mendicino said he planned to raise the situation with Anne Kelly, commissioner of the federal correctional service, saying he expects it to “take a victim-centred and trauma-informed approach in these cases.”

The CSC, for its part, issued a statement offering no details about Bernardo’s transfer but said safety is its “paramount consideration” in all such decisions.

“While we cannot comment on the specifics of an offender’s case under the Privacy Act, we want to assure the public that this offender continues to be incarcerated in a secure institution, with appropriate security perimeters and controls in place,” the statement read.

It went on to note that Bernardo, who has been designated a dangerous offender, is serving an “indeterminate sentence” with no end date.

The agency has since said it will review the decision to transfer Bernardo.

In June of 1991, Mahaffy was abducted near her Burlington home by Bernardo who along with his accomplice wife Karla Homolka killed the 14-year-old M.M. Robinson High School student.

Her disappearance along with French and other young girls frightened communities for several years until the arrests of Bernardo and Homolka.

The criminal trials were widely covered by both Canadian and international media and made Bernardo and Homolka two of the most infamous killers in this country’s history.

Homolka was released from custody in 2005.

–  with files from The Canadian Press

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