Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, pictured here at a news conference in March, is facing renewed calls for his resignation.Justin Tang

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino says he spoke with the correctional services commissioner many times since March, but in all those discussions she never mentioned that notorious child killer and serial rapist Paul Bernardo would be transferred to a medium-security prison.

Mr. Mendicino’s revelation came on the same day as renewed calls for him to be fired – a demand Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre put to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau three times during Question Period Wednesday. Mr. Trudeau didn’t express support for his minister and instead pivoted to outlining what the government has done since the May 29 prison transfer.

The Prime Minister’s Office, Privy Council Office and Public Safety Minister’s Office were all notified on March 2 that Correctional Service Canada could transfer Mr. Bernardo from maximum- to medium-security. Despite that, both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Mendicino said their respective staffs only briefed them at the end of May.

The revelation last week that senior officials in government had known about the matter for months has created a firestorm on Parliament Hill. On Wednesday Mr. Mendicino acknowledged that in those months he also had regular meetings with Anne Kelly, the commissioner, who didn’t raise the matter either.

“We meet probably about once every week, once every two weeks,” he said outside a Liberal caucus meeting.

“What’s clear is that I was not personally briefed about the Paul Bernardo affair until May 30,” he said

He described the oversight as an “issue” that will be addressed through his new ministerial directive, announced last week but expected by the end of the month. It will require the corrections agency to brief the minister directly “in advance of the transfer of any high profile or dangerous offenders.”

Mr. Mendicino did not explain to reporters how the transfer of one of Canada’s most notorious criminals didn’t make it onto the agenda in his meetings with the commissioner and he ignored a question about what they talked about instead.

His office was unable to provide a precise number of meetings that he had with the commissioner, but noted that some of those meetings were in group settings while others were one-on-one.

Correctional Service Canada did not respond to The Globe’s request for comment by deadline Wednesday.

Mr. Bernardo was handed a life sentence for the kidnapping, sexual assault, torture and murder of Leslie Mahaffy in 1991 and 15-year-old Kristen French in 1992. He also was convicted of manslaughter in the 1990 death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, and admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women.

A former director general at Public Safety, Mary Campbell, told The Globe in an interview that it was “inexplicable” that he and his office weren’t on top of the file. She added that it was surprising that Ms. Kelly would not have mentioned the coming transfer, to make sure he was prepared for the reaction.

She said there are only a handful of dangerous offenders in Canada with Mr. Bernardo’s notoriety, and it should have been obvious from the start that a clear communications plan was needed.

Instead, Ms. Campbell said the minister stoked public anger in his first statement on the matter when he called Correctional Service Canada’s decision to transfer Mr. Bernardo “shocking and incomprehensible.”

“The Minister should not be inflaming the situation. Ministers should be informing the public and reassuring them,” she said.

Ms. Campbell said his office should have used the three months’ notice to put a communications plan in place that would help explain the decision and outline that the transfer had no threat to public safety.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe