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Transfer of Paul Bernardo: relatives of the victims testify

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Paul Bernardo is imprisoned for the murders of teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, among others. (Archive photo)

The Canadian Press

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Three friends of' childhood say they were forced to relive the anguish and fear of losing Kristen French when the Correctional Service of Canada decided to transfer her killer, Paul Bernardo, to a medium security prison in Quebec .

The women testified before a parliamentary committee Wednesday about how they felt when they learned the killer had been transferred from his maximum security prison in late May.

Tennille Chwalczuk, who became best friends with Kristen French when she was four, said she was filled with a mixture of absolute anguish, tears and rage when she Suddenly learned without warning of Paul Bernardo's transfer.

Everything came flooding back, said Marcia Penner, another friend. It left us with despair, a feeling of helplessness.

Bernardo is serving an indeterminate life sentence for the kidnapping, sexual assault and murder of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, in the early 1990s. 1990, near St. Catharines, Ontario.

He was also convicted of manslaughter in the December 1990 death of of Tammy, the 15-year-old sister of his then-wife Karla Homolka.

The latter was herself sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter charges for her role in the crimes against Kristen French French and Tennille Mahaffy. She was released from prison in 2005.

Bernardo also admitted to sexually assaulting 14 other women.

Laws governing the prison system fail victims by placing too many restrictions on what can be shared with them, said Benjamin Roebuck, the federal crime victims' ombudsman.

At the time of Bernardo's transfer, Tim Danson, the lawyer for the French and Mahaffy families, expressed concerns that the corrections department was refusing to release basic information on the decision, citing the prisoner's right to privacy.

More details were eventually shared once a review of the transfer became public.

The way we treat victims of crime in Canada is not fair. This is not compassionate. This is not respectful.

A quote from Benjamin Roebuck, Federal Crime Victims Ombudsman

He told the committee that his office has been concerned about prison transfers since 2010 and that he hoped the Bernardo decision would be a turning point.

What we have recommended is that there be no transfers if people have not been informed at the time of a pending transfer, a proposed Mr. Roebuck. Victims should be informed that they are allowed to submit their comments and express their concerns, he added.

In a report released in July, the Correctional Service concluded that it had followed proper procedures, but Commissioner Anne Kelly said the department had not followed proper procedures. The agency could have done a better job informing the victims' families, who said they were not informed of the transfer until it took place.

It is common practice to notify victims once the transfer has been made, Kelly said. In the case of Paul Bernardo, the decision was made to inform the French and Mahaffy families a little earlier.

When a person has been seriously injured by another person, it is common for them to respond by needing to know as much information as possible, Roebuck told the committee, which undertook a study on issues surrounding Bernardo's transfer.

“Knowing the person's location is particularly important” for victims, he said. -he emphasized.

Laura Murray, another friend of Kristen French, testified that when she learned that the criminal had been transferred, she felt the same way she had felt when she was a teenager, the day she found out that Kristen French's body had been found.

It takes us back to the same time, Ms. Murray said.

The three women told MPs that although they x27;were initially opposed to the prison system's decision to move Bernardo, they would have liked to have received additional notice, in addition to having access to mental health resources.

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