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Ford calls for ouster, Poilievre decries Liberal response to Bernardo prison transfer

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre speaks with reporters before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs on Parliament Hill, Tuesday, June 6, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is calling on the Liberals to keep "multiple murderers" in maximum-security prison as fallout continues over the transfer of convicted killer Paul Bernardo to a medium-security institution in Quebec.

And Ontario Premier Doug Ford is looking for the ouster of the federal corrections commissioner after the move, which was made public last week.  

Anne Kelly, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, announced the transfer was under review Monday after Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino said he was as shocked Canadians were by the decision. 

Bernardo is serving a life sentence for the kidnapping, torture and murders of 15-year-old Kristen French in 1991 and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy in 1992. He was also convicted of manslaughter in the 1990 death of Tammy Homolka, the 15-year-old sister of his then-wife, Karla Homolka. 

Homolka pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the crimes committed against French and Mahaffy, and was released in 2005 after serving a 12-year sentence. Bernardo also admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women.

Speaking from the provincial legislature, Ford said Canadians have lost confidence in Kelly's decision-making and asked that she "step aside, step down or be fired."

"Sorry for the language, but he’s nothing but a scumbag," Ford said of Bernardo, whose transfer has also garnered widespread backlash from police associations in Ontario. 

"This S.O.B. needs to be in jail 23 hours a day in a maximum security (facility)."

In a statement late Tuesday, Correctional Service of Canada spokesman Kevin Antonucci said Kelly "has devoted her career to corrections and has worked tirelessly to uphold the safety of our communities."

"She has made meaningful progress on her mandate commitments and remains committed to building on this essential work."

He added that Bernardo's transfer poses no risk to public safety.

Mendicino has said he is unable to reverse the transfer decision because the federal correctional service operates as an independent institution. 

Poilievre said Tuesday he rejects that explanation and demanded Trudeau step in. 

"I'm calling on the prime minister to direct his public safety minister to say that all mass murderers should have to serve their entire sentences in maximum security prisons," Poilievre told reporters.

"This is a no-brainer and the prime minister can do it. He's got to stop passing the buck."

Poilievre's office has suggested that such power exists in the form of directives from ministers, which are typically used to address broad policy issues. 

Mendicino said Tuesday he expects the review into Bernardo's transfer will only take a couple of weeks "at the most," and suggested any discussion around policy changes must wait until its conclusion.

"Look, if there are issues with regards to policies, with regards to the principles, even with regards to the legislation — I'm going to leave all of those options on the table," he said.

"We'll see where we are at in a couple of weeks' time and after that, if we need to revisit the legislation or any of their policies or directions, then we'll do that."

The correctional service said it understands Bernardo's transfer comes as a shock to some and acknowledged in a statement Monday that it did not intend to cause harm to his victims. 

It has said decisions around the security classification of offenders must adhere with the law and depend on factors including their risk to public safety, their threat of escaping and psychological assessments. 

The reason Bernardo was moved has not been divulged, but the prison he was transferred to is known for housing violent sex offenders and specializes in treating people convicted of sexual offences.

On Tuesday, Mendicino said "we do have access to those reasons" for Bernardo's transfer, but stressed that because of privacy provisions, it is up to the federal correctional service to decide whether it can release those reasons publicly. 

"I do believe, given the fact that this matter is now public, that Canadians are entitled to an explanation," he said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 6, 2023.

— With files from Allison Jones.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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