Poilievre calls for Mendicino to resign over handling of Paul Bernardo transfer

By Stephanie Taylor and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Marco Mendicino should resign or be fired over his office’s handling of knowledge that Paul Bernardo was being transferred to a medium-security prison, Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre said Wednesday. 

Poilievre pointed out that when the Correctional Service of Canada’s decision to move the convicted killer and serial rapist from his maximum-security penitentiary became public, the minister of public safety said he was shocked. 

The Conservative leader now says Mendicino “lied,” given the correctional service informed the minister’s office at least three months before the transfer and again several days before Bernardo was moved. 

Spokesman Kevin Antonucci said the correctional service has a process to provide the minister’s office advance notice on matters pertaining to high-profile offenders.

He said Mendicino’s office was first emailed about Bernardo’s transfer on March 2, but told the final date for the move had not yet been determined.

Antonucci said the correctional service emailed his office again on May 25, notifying the government that Bernardo would be transferred on May 29. 

The spokesman underlined that decisions about the transfer of inmates are up to the correctional service and not the minister or his office. 

Poilievre noted that the minister’s office had received “at least two emails” as he spoke before going into his weekly caucus meeting. 

“Why has the staff not been fired?” he said. “Marco Mendicino needs to resign.”

A spokesperson in Mendicino’s office has said the minister was only informed of Bernardo’s transfer to a medium-security prison once it happened. 

Mendicinorejected calls for his resignation Wednesday, and instead put out a statement saying he plans to issue a directive to the federal correctional services that the public safety minister “must be formally and directly notified … in advance of the transfer of any high-profile or dangerous offenders.”

Tim Danson, a lawyer representing the families of 15-year-old Kristen French and 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy, whom Bernardo was convicted of kidnapping and murdering in the early 1990s, said Wednesday that they are “very, very troubled” by the minister’s lack of notification. 

He said the incident demonstrates a “cavalier attitude” toward the situation and “demeans” the memories of their daughters. 

Danson also questioned how it could be possible that staff in the minister’s office did not notify him in advance of Bernardo’s transfer, given his notoriety and criminal past. 

He said he spoke with Mendicino Wednesday morning and they had what he characterized as a “frank but constructive conversation.”

Danson reiterated that the victims’ families want to see Bernardo’s transfer reversed, saying he believes the minister could do make that happen by issuing a ministerial directive. 

Poilievre has also called for a similar move. He and the Conservative caucus repeatedly made the demand for Mendicino’s ouster in the House of Commons on Wednesday, although NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he disagreed. 

Speaking to reporters, Singh said firing or demoting the minister is not the answer, saying he believes this was an example of the Liberal government being lousy when it comes to information-sharing.

He laid the blame at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

Some top Liberals, like Government House leader Mark Holland, also expressed concern about how information flows within government. 

“It’s good for us to take a look at making sure that we have the right processes in place to deal with the flow of information in a country as large and as big as this. There is an enormous amount of information in this form,” Holland said.

“So we do have to review our processes and make sure that they’re as strong and as rigorous as possible, and where communication gaps exist, that’s an opportunity to look at how to fix it.”

Asked about the need for staff to be disciplined, backbench Liberal MP Chris Bittle said he understands why that would make sense.

“The gut reaction would be: of course. But I’m sure this (is a) staffer that may be overworked, that probably feels about one feet tall and wants to crawl under a rock.”

Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Quebec, said Mendicino himself would be the one to address his office’s handling of the Bernardo transfer information. 

Mendicino had said Tuesday that there was “back and forth” between the correctional service and the department leading up to the decision, when asked why he was not informed ahead of time. 

He also cited privacy legislation and security concerns when asked why he did not disclose to the public that he knew of Bernardo’s transfer until it was first reported in the media.

In calling for Mendicino’s firing, Poilievre said that the minister has mishandled other files, including the Liberals’ latest gun-control legislation and the government’s response to alleged Chinese police stations operating in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 14, 2023. 

Stephanie Taylor and Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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