Nearly three decades following the abhorrent crimes of Paul Bernardo, their harrowing impact continues to echo in the hearts of Canadians, reflected in countless messages received by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau upon the serial killer’s shift to a medium-security prison.
A peer of a jury member shared, “I have a personal friend who was on that jury and she remains traumatized nearly 30 years later. She tells me that several of the jury members meet regularly for psychological support even to this day.”
In late May, Bernardo, formerly housed at the Millhaven Institution, a maximum-security facility in southern Ontario, was moved to La Macaza Institution, a medium-security prison located roughly 190 kilometers northwest of Montreal that provides care for sex offenders. Canadians reacted swiftly and emotionally to the news of his transfer.
Opposition, led by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, encouraged citizens to petition Trudeau and Marco Mendicino, the then-public safety minister, to revoke the decision. However, the government maintained its inability to intervene on grounds of the Correctional Service of Canada’s independence.
The uproar resulted in a review initiated by the head of the prison system assessing the validity of the transfer. The report validated the original decision but criticized the lack of sufficient notification for the families of victims Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy.
Convicted for the abduction, torture, and murder of French and Mahaffy, then 15 and 14 respectively, Bernardo received an indefinite life sentence. He is identified as a dangerous offender. Canadians reaching out to Trudeau’s office recalled the case that earned Bernardo the infamous title “Schoolgirl Killer”.
One correspondent wrote, “My children were going to school in the Niagara region during the time of killings, and all of us will never forget the fear, sadness, and disgust”.
Bernardo, in addition to his other crimes, was convicted of manslaughter in the case of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka, sister of his then-wife Karla Homolka, who was released in 2005 after serving a 12-year sentence for her involvement in the crimes against French and Mahaffy.
A friend of Mahaffy’s wrote, “I remember the morning she went missing. We were all frantically trying to find her.”
The correspondence showed how indelibly the case had impacted Canadians, especially those in southern Ontario. The vivid brutality of the case and Bernardo’s trial remain forefront in Canadian criminal history.
“His violent acts were so invasive that they changed our outlook on personal security,” a message noted.
Bernardo confessed to sexually assaulting 14 other women, crimes previously affiliated with the “Scarborough Rapist”.
One survivor vocalized disgust about Bernardo’s transfer, stating, “As a rape survivor, I feel it is an absolute disgrace that Paul Bernardo was transferred to a medium-security prison.”
The correctional service claims Bernardo poses no threat, validating his transfer after years of conforming to medium-security prisoner criteria, demonstrating socio-integration with fellow inmates post his solitary confinement.
Out of nearly 247 messages, all but two criticized Bernardo’s transfer. A minority voiced support for Poilievre’s proposal, advocating for legislative alterations to mandate killers such as Bernardo to serve their entire sentences in maximum-security facilities.