Poilievre and Caputo ignore the truth about prisons when they resurrect the Bernardo transfer debate

Saying conditions are like university campuses is the highest level of absurdity

Poilievre and Caputo ignore the truth about prisons when they resurrect the Bernardo transfer debate
Michael Spratt

In the latest spectacle orchestrated by Conservative Associate Shadow Minister of Justice Frank Caputo, viewers are treated to an overly produced video aimed at resurrecting the year-old "controversy" surrounding the transfer of Canada’s most infamous serial killer, Paul Bernardo, to a medium-security prison.

Caputo absurdly claims that Bernardo is living better than most Canadians.

Adding fuel to the fire, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, whose reputation for honesty has been questioned of late, jumps into the fray, pointing fingers squarely at Justin Trudeau, saying that the prime minister is responsible for Bernardo's alleged cushy accommodations.

Let’s brush aside the fact that Caputo probably stretched the truth quite a bit, including his tall tale about encountering and interacting with Bernardo – a claim disputed by Correctional Service Canada, which stated, "It is our understanding that participants did not interact with Paul Bernardo during their visit," – and focus on the bigger mistruths.

Caputo’s main gripe with Bernardo’s transfer to a medium-security prison is that the institution felt like a university campus. This claim holds water only if you ignore the high walls, barbed wire, 24/7 monitoring, and armed guards.

And Caputo's evidence that Bernardo was living the high life? He was well-fed, had empty margarine containers and a razor in his cell, and had supervised access to recreational facilities.

The notion that Bernardo is living better than most Canadians is laughable. Inmates in medium-security prisons endure conditions that strip them of their liberty and freedom. This is no minor punishment, a reality that shouldn’t escape Conservatives who lost their collective minds when COVID precautions imposed the slightest inconveniences.

We send people to jail as punishment, not for punishment. But I suppose in Caputo and Poilievre’s imagination, prisoners should neither be well-fed nor be able to shave. It's a scary notion that politicians should dictate imprisonment conditions based on public sentiment or political expedience.

But this is not a policy issue for Poilievre and his Conservative soldiers; it is a political weapon.

Poilievre was quick to suggest that Trudeau was responsible for Bernardo’s transfer to medium security, “Trudeau […] passed Bill C-83 that gives mass murderers the chance to play hockey in medium-security prisons.”

Except that isn’t true.

Bill C-83, passed in 2019, aimed to abolish solitary confinement, which violated United Nations standards for prisoner treatment and, as the Supreme Court of British Columbia found, the Canadian Charter. This is a matter of life and death. In 2010, 24-year-old Edward Snowshoe committed suicide after 162 days in segregation, and in 2007, Ashley Smith strangled herself after over 1,000 days in solitary confinement.

One way the 2019 legislation sought to end human rights abuses in prison was by mandating that correctional services consider the “least restrictive” measures consistent with public and staff safety. This amendment was nothing new; it simply restored the standards set by the Mulroney government.

This legislative change, contrary to Poilievre’s claims, had nothing to do with Bernardo’s transfer. A thorough investigation into the transfer found that all proper policies were followed, and Public Safety confirmed, “The result of this transfer was not affected by the passage of Bill C-83. A transfer would have also occurred under the previous language of ‘necessary’ restrictions.”

Indeed, back in 2018, under the old legislation, Michael Rafferty, convicted of murdering eight-year-old Tori Stafford, was transferred to a medium-security facility. It's not and has never been unusual for serious criminals to be housed in medium-security prisons when appropriate.

The truth is that Trudeau had nothing to do with Bernardo’s transfer.

The same goes for the hockey rink that irked Caputo. It turns out the rink has been broken for two years – a fact Conservatives tried to spin into proof that everything's broken under Trudeau, proving this is all a game to them.

But even if the rink were operational, it has nothing to do with Trudeau. It was fully functional under the Harper government when Poilievre was in Cabinet, as it should be because providing recreation to inmates promotes rehabilitation and enhances health and safety.

From Scott Moe's tax rebellion to Danielle Smith’s Sovereignty Act to Doug Ford’s attempts to politicize the judiciary, there's an alarming trend of Conservative politicians thumbing their noses at the rule of law and democratic norms. And the last thing we need is political grifters like Poilievre and Caputo meddling in lawful correctional decisions.

If we can’t trust Poilievre and Caputo to tell the truth about basic facts, why on earth would we trust them with our prison system?

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