Review into Paul Bernardo’s Security Reclassification and Transfer


July 20, 2023 – Ottawa, Ontario – Correctional Service Canada

Anne Kelly, Commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC), issued the following statement on the review of inmate Paul Bernardo’s transfer from Millhaven Institution (maximum) to La Macaza Institution (medium) on May 29, 2023:

“First, I want to acknowledge the victims and their loved ones. We contacted all of the registered victims prior to this announcement, and I spoke directly to those wishing to be walked through the findings. What they have gone through is unimaginable. Public safety, and their safety, continues to be top of mind for us in any decisions we make. Hearing about this case so intensely over the past weeks has brought up strong emotions, and rightly so. I regret any pain and concern this transfer has caused.

There is no doubt that Paul Bernardo committed horrific and unspeakable crimes – crimes that continue to have an immeasurable impact on the victims and their families. We want justice to be served and incarceration is part of that punishment. I can assure you that we are doing our job by keeping him in a secure institution – and have been for close to 30 years and counting.

In Canada, our correctional system is fundamentally based on the rehabilitation of offenders, even if some remain incarcerated for the rest of their lives. This is our legislated mandate. We are constantly balancing many factors, including public safety risks, safe, secure and humane treatment, and victim rights. And we must get that balance right.

After the transfer, I heard a wide array of views on this decision and felt it was important to order an additional review to make sure that the decisions to reclassify and transfer Bernardo were appropriate, evidence-based, and appropriately considered victims. I struck a review committee, including external representation to ensure this decision was compliant with the law, policies and procedures that guide our work.  

The review committee concluded that the decisions to reclassify Paul Bernardo to medium and transfer him to La Macaza were sound, and followed all applicable laws and policies. I want to be clear that, at any point, an inmate can be returned to a higher security level, if deemed necessary, to ensure the safety of the public or our institutions.

The committee also noted that, even though CSC went above policy in this case to notify victims, additional steps could have been taken to provide more information.

As such, the review committee made two recommendations around victims, which I fully accept. They recommended that:

  • CSC shares the findings of this review and recommendations with the registered victims prior to any release of information to the media or to the public, which I have done.
  • CSC strengthen victim notifications and engagement by striking a committee dedicated to this work, which we will do.

I want to thank the committee for its work. Despite the challenging circumstances and short timeframe, the review was completed with diligence and utmost professionalism.

Given the public’s interest and desire to understand why Paul Bernardo was reclassified to medium security, I have exceptionally authorized the release of some personal information about this offender.

I recognize that some may not support this outcome. While this case has opened up a larger and important debate about the role of corrections in our society, it is important for us to look at the larger context. I have been with CSC for close to 40 years, and I know that, our feelings towards an offender must not guide our decisions. Our system only works if we continue to carry out our duties according to the rule of law, policies, victim rights, and based on evidence and facts for all those involved.”

Quick Facts:

  • Paul Bernardo is serving a life sentence since September 1, 1995. He was declared a dangerous offender on November 3, 1995.
  • He spent 18 years at Kingston Penitentiary in maximum-security, then when it closed, he was transferred to  Millhaven Institution, another maximum-security institution.
  • This decision does not mean he will systematically continue to cascade down through the system. He is still assessed as a high risk to the safety of the public, and he continues to hold a Dangerous Offender designation which was imposed by the court.
  • Decisions around offender specific cases and CSC operations fall under the purview of CSC. The Minister does not have a role or authority in security classifications or the transfer of offenders.

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