Paul Bernardo applies for day parole in Toronto; families of victims devastated

Paul Bernardo has applied for day parole in Toronto, though lawyers say he has almost no chance of succeeding.

TORONTO — Paul Bernardo has applied for day parole in Toronto, though lawyers say he has almost no chance of succeeding.

The lawyer for the families of Bernardo’s murder victims, 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French, said Correctional Service Canada sent out a form letter to the families last week advising them of his application.

It is Bernardo’s right to apply for day parole three years before he is eligible for full parole on his life sentence, but this has left families of both girls devastated, even though they knew this day was coming, said their lawyer Tim Danson.

“It is 22 years after the fact for my clients,” Danson said.

“It was — I don’t even know what words to use — but really upsetting for them. It just brings everything back and they have to re-live things.”

He has told the families that there is no chance Bernardo will ever see the outside world again, that this is simply part of the process.

Bernardo was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 25 years for raping and murdering Mahaffy and French.

He was also given dangerous offender status, the most severe designation in Canadian law, for admitting to raping 14 other women and other charges related to Mahaffy and French. Dangerous offenders can be imprisoned indefinitely.

Danson said he received the letter on June 25 and has been corresponding with the authorities since then.

It’s rare for people convicted of first-degree murder to also be designated dangerous offenders, since first-degree murder already carries a life sentence. Danson believes the dangerous offender designation must be dealt with first, rather than the murder charges.

“There is a process that’s set up for dangerous offenders to persuade the parole board that you’re no longer a dangerous offender, which is different criteria than normal parole board criteria,” he said.

“That must be dealt with first.”

He said the authorities are working with him to figure out the proper process.

Michael Mandelcorn, president of the Canadian Prison Law Association, which advocates for prisoners’ rights, said the stigma of a dangerous offender designation inhibits any chance of parole.

“There’s a huge amount of time that goes by before somebody normally gains a release on a dangerous offender designation,” said the Kingston, Ont.-based lawyer. “And those people are few and far between.”

While Mandelcorn has never worked with Bernardo, he said it’s unlikely he will be able to convince a parole board that he’s not at risk to re-offend.

“He’s now in a maximum security institution. The normal chain of events is that you have to cascade downwards,” he said.

“He needs correctional services’ support, he needs halfway house support. At this stage I would very much doubt that he has either.”

Julian Fantino, the associate national defence minister, issued a statement saying Bernardo committed “evil and horrific crimes” and should stay behind bars.

“For over forty years in law enforcement I have seen first hand the victimization of innocent lives at the hands of cold-blooded murderers,” he said, referring to his former roles as Toronto police chief and Ontario Provincial Police commissioner.

“I got into politics because I agreed with Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper: if you commit a violent crime, you will do the time.”

The Harper government introduced a bill, which passed first reading before Parliament recessed for the summer, to abolish the possibility of parole for certain heinous crimes, including killings of police or prison guards or murders committed during kidnappings, sex assaults or terrorism.

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