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MANDEL

Bernardo postpones day parole hearing until 2018

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

How he toys with them yet again.

Set to seek day parole next month, schoolgirl killer Paul Bernardo has now decided to postpone his hearing until October 2018, the Toronto Sun has learned.

For the French and Mahaffy families, it’s a temporary respite.

“They feel relieved even though it’s postponing the inevitable,” says their lawyer, Tim Danson.

The brutal serial killer has a right to seek his freedom, no matter how offensive — and hopefully unlikely — that may be. And Bernardo can ask for it to be postponed as often as he’d like. And as many times as he’s likely to be turned down, he can always demand a new hearing, putting the families through this torture again and again.

Eligible for day parole, Bernardo, 52, has repeatedly rescheduled his hearing for unspecified reasons. The original March date was postponed to this past August. It was then supposed to be held next month before he just decided to put it off for a year.

His victims’ families had been in the midst of struggling to prepare their victim impact statements.

“It’s like this was just yesterday and they’re having a very tough time,” Danson says. “It’s kind of ripping them apart so this is welcome.”

When Bernardo does make his bid for release next year, he’ll get to keep his prison files secret from us all.

Arrested in 1993, Bernardo is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years after being found guilty in 1995 of murdering Leslie Mahaffy, 14, and Kristen French, 15. The admitted Scarborough Rapist was also declared a dangerous offender and given an indefinite prison term. He’s expected to ask to have that designation lifted as well.

The sexual predator became eligible for day parole in 2015 and can seek full release next year.

“His chances are between zero and nil but we’re not taking anything for granted,” Danson explains.

After all, stranger things have happened in our justice system. “We’re being vigilant.”

So the lawyer has demanded an open and transparent process where all of Bernardo’s institutional records are made public during his parole hearing. It seems obvious. Yet as it stands right now, the serial killer’s right to privacy could block us from knowing what he’s been up to behind bars.

And that’s outrageous.

Danson has filed an access to information act request for Bernardo’s records while at Kingston Pen and those accumulated now at Millhaven.

“The public interest in disclosure clearly outweighs any invasion of privacy,” he argues in his letter.

“Convicted murderers, sentenced to life imprisonment and who have been designated a dangerous offender, are not entitled to keep their institutional records ‘secret’ when they ask that society take a chance by allowing them back into the community.”

It would have been impossible to hold Bernardo’s trial, dangerous offender hearing or sentencing in secret. So why does that change when he’s a lifer seeking release? The public has a right to know what information Bernardo’s case management team uses to make its recommendations to the parole board and also what the board considers in making its decision.

“Neither (the federal corrections department or parole board) can act as if they are part of a closed shop or a private club,” Danson argues in his application. “The process must remain as public now as it was during the criminal proceedings.”

How else can we be assured they’re doing their jobs properly and not glossing over details that the rest of us would find alarming?

It’s the same argument Danson has made unsuccessfully in advance of the many parole hearings for Craig Munro, the convicted killer of Toronto Police Const. Michael Sweet. His victim’s family has repeatedly sought the right to see Munro’s prison file and the privacy commissioner has turned them down every time. The Sweet family and the Toronto Police Association are seeking a judicial review before the federal court.

For some twisted reason, these killers have a sacred right to privacy. Surely, a monster like Bernardo deserves nothing of the kind.

Or as Danson so powerfully concluded in his application, “It is disturbing that Mr. Bernardo asserts rights that he so sadistically and brutally took from his victims.”

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday.