Political posturing about Paul Bernardo’s case is undermining the rule of law

While revenge has an emotional appeal, it should not be motivating politicians’ public remarks

Political posturing about Paul Bernardo’s case is undermining the rule of law
Michael Spratt

Let’s get straight to the point because, once again, we are diving into the wild world of Canadian politics, where some politicians seem to have lost their moral compass and a firm grip on reality.

It should not be too much to ask for our elected leaders to refrain from undermining the rule of law, interfering in the justice system, and in one case bordering on criminal negligence, advocating for acts of torture and jailhouse beatings.

But here we are.

Earlier this month, news broke that Canada’s most notorious killer and rapist, Paul Bernardo, was moved to a medium security institution after spending 30 years in a maximum security penitentiary. 

Enter Marco Mendicino, the Minister of Public Safety, with his grand statement calling the transfer "shocking and incomprehensible." He even threw in reference to his background as a federal prosecutor, promising to have a little chat with the independent CSC commissioner.

But wait, here's the juicy part: Mendicino's office had known about the transfer for three whole months! Yet somehow, he conveniently claims he only found out the day after it happened. Oh, the magic of political posturing! With zero knowledge of the facts or reasoning behind the transfer, Mendicino wasted no time flaunting his ministerial power and publicly criticizing the decision. And let's not forget his apparent attempt to meddle with the CSC by contacting the commissioner directly.

But wait, there's more! Mendicino then issued a new directive, demanding that the CSC "formally and directly" notify him whenever a dangerous or high-profile offender gets moved around. Because, hey, it's easier to interfere with independent decisions and start the political spin when you get the heads up.

Now, if Mendicino thinks he's some kind of superhero who can swoop in and make judgment calls on individual cases, his silence on the over-classification, especially Indigenous Canadians, speaks volumes about his priorities and character. Talk about selective outrage.

But hold on because we have yet to reach peak absurdity. Enter Ontario Premier Doug Ford with his stunningly unhinged response. In his infinite wisdom, Ford labels Bernardo as a "scumbag" and suggests that this "SOB" should spend 23 hours a day in maximum security and that his one precious hour of freedom be spent in the general population.

Ah, the sweet scent of an officially sanctioned jail murder.

But what about a lifetime of solitary confinement – under the Mandela rules, the United Nations classifies Ford’s type of justice as torture.

In 2019, the British Columbia Court of Appeal ruled that Canada’s current administrative segregation practices in federal institutions are a form of solitary confinement that violates the Mandela rules.

And remember that Bill C-83, which became law in June 2019, explicitly bans prolonged solitary confinement in our prisons. It's all spelled out in black and white.

Our political leaders must defend the rule of law, even when it's not the popular or convenient thing to do. Unfortunately, Ford and Mendicino failed this basic test.

As the Canadian Prison Law Association rightly pointed out, an individual's security level and their conditions of incarceration shouldn't be solely based on the notoriety or severity of their crimes.

We send people to jail as punishment, not for punishment. And for heaven's sake, we don't want politicians arbitrarily deciding case-by-case punishments based on public sentiment or their personal feelings.

Let's be clear, Bernardo is a monstrous criminal who has committed unthinkable acts and caused immeasurable pain to our nation. There's almost zero chance he'll ever see the light of day outside prison walls. And rightly so.

And medium-security penitentiaries are not luxury resorts; they are still harsh and punitive institutions. Despite the incendiary claims from the Conservative opposition, advocating for the rule of law is not the same as sympathizing with Bernardo.

We might all crave vengeance, but that's not how our justice or correctional systems operate.

Revenge and the rule of law are like oil and water; they don't mix. Any politicians who abandon the rule of law and exploit public confusion and anger for their political gain should be swiftly removed from positions of power.

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