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MPs to study controversial prison transfer of killer Luka Magnotta

A parliamentary committee is launching a study into why convicted killer Luka Magnotta was transferred from a maximum to a medium-security prison two years ago. (The Canadian Press - image credit)
A parliamentary committee is launching a study into why convicted killer Luka Magnotta was transferred from a maximum to a medium-security prison two years ago. (The Canadian Press - image credit)

A parliamentary committee voted Monday to look into why convicted first-degree murderer Luka Magnotta was quietly transferred from a maximum to a medium-security prison.

During an emergency debate, the standing committee on public safety and national security passed an amended motion to hold one meeting on Magnotta's transfer.

The committee is now calling for four witnesses to appear before it, including the warden of La Macaza Institution in Quebec, where Magnotta was moved in 2022.

MPs also are calling for testimony from Commissioner of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) Anne Kelly, representatives of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers and representatives of the medical team involved in Magnotta's transfer.

A jury found Magnotta guilty of first-degree murder in 2014 for the killing and dismemberment of international student Jun Lin in 2012.

Lin's body parts were found in a suitcase outside Magnotta's apartment, in packages sent to the headquarters of political parties and two Vancouver schools, and in a Montreal park.

After an international manhunt, Magnotta was arrested in Berlin in 2012 at an Internet cafe.

A jury has found Luka Magnotta guilty of 1st-degree murder in the slaying of Jun Lin.
A jury has found Luka Magnotta guilty of 1st-degree murder in the slaying of Jun Lin.

A jury found Luka Magnotta guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Jun Lin. (Submitted)

Magnotta's prison transfer was made public recently after Conservative MP Frank Caputo toured the medium-security La Macaza Institution last month. Serial killer and rapist Paul Bernardo was transferred to La Macaza in May 2023, setting off a political firestorm.

Caputo said that when he was touring the prison, a man walked past him who was later identified by a staff member as Luka Magnotta.

"To see him in medium-security seemingly so soon after his offence was committed ... really did shock me," Caputo told CBC News.

The La Macaza Institution is located about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains.
The La Macaza Institution is located about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains.

The La Macaza Institution is located about 200 kilometres northwest of Montreal in the Laurentian Mountains. (Pascal Robidas/Radio-Canada)

CSC later confirmed that Magnotta was transferred to La Macaza two years ago. CSC said it sent registered victims notifications of Magnotta's transfer but the agency does not "typically comment or publicly announce" such transfers publicly.

"To provide further context, we have a number of inmates with affiliations to security threat groups (gangs), and who are incompatible with other inmates, which could make it a safety and security risk to disclose their specific location and placement," CSC said in a media statement.

In heated exchanges during Monday's committee hearing, the Liberals and Conservative accused each another of engaging in political theatrics.

Liberal MP Peter Schiefke said that if any of his family members, or members of other MPs' families, suffered what Bernardo's victims experienced, he'd "want that person to never see the light of day."

While Schiefke said he supported the Conservatives' motion and an amendment later put forward by the Bloc Québécois, he accused the Official Opposition of grandstanding.

"I would gladly take a chainsaw to their proverbial soapbox and point out, firstly, that transfers from maximum to medium security prisons in this country peaked under Conservative [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper," he said.

Caputo said Bernardo was not in medium security when Harper was in office.

Schiefke pointed to statistics from CSC showing that the highest number of prison transfers from maximum to medium-security institutions over the past decade occurred between 2012 and 2014. There were 291 of those transfers in 2012-2013 and 319 in 2013-2014.

The average number of transfers from maximum to medium-security institutions was 222 between 2012 and 2023, according to the CSC data viewed by CBC News. There were 253 of these prison transfers under the current government in 2022-2023, 223 such transfers in 2021-2022 and 197 in 2020-2021, CSC's data says.

Conservative MP Dane Lloyd said the closure of the Kingston Penitentiary in 2013 could explain why the numbers are higher for 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.

Schiefke said three high-profile prison escapes happened during the Harper years and accused the Conservatives of having the "worst" record on crime.

Conservative MP Michelle Ferreri said Canadians feel "unsafe under the Trudeau government." She said that for victims of violent crime, the committee's deliberations are "not political theater — this is their life."

"Then stop treating it like political theater," Schiefke responded.

"Are you for real?" said Ferreri. "You literally just said if this was your family that you would do this."

Conservative and Bloc MPs called Monday's emergency meeting to debate Caputo's original motion calling for six meetings to probe the transfer of Magnotta and other prisoner transfers. That motion also called for testimony from Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc, his predecessor Marco Mendicino, Mendicino's former chief of staff, the clerk of the Privy Council Office and friends of Bernardo's victims.

Minister left out of the loop on Bernardo transfer

CBC News reported on Saturday that Mendicino's chief of staff was briefed last year by the head of Corrections Canada about Bernardo's upcoming prison transfer almost two weeks before it happened. The minister wasn't told about it until after Bernardo had been moved, according to an internal government email.

Documents obtained through an access-to-information request also show Corrections Canada was in contact with the minister's office about Bernardo's transfer a total of seven times between February and May 2020, before Mendicino was briefed.

Bernardo was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for killing teenagers Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy in southern Ontario. He was also convicted of manslaughter for his role in the death of 15-year-old Tammy Homolka. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years and has been designated a dangerous offender.

Kristen French was 15 and Leslie Mahaffy was 14 when Paul Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and killed them.
Kristen French was 15 and Leslie Mahaffy was 14 when Paul Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and killed them.

Kristen French was 15 and Leslie Mahaffy was 14 when Paul Bernardo kidnapped, tortured and killed them. (Handout/The Canadian Press)

Ferreri read out a statement to the committee she said was written by French's friends Tennille Chwalczuk, Laura Murray and Marcia Penner. The statement, issued in response to CBC's reporting, said the three women are "once again saddened and disappointed that the government of Canada has added to the continued emotional trauma and victimization" of those affected by Bernardo's crimes.

"To know that so much communication took place about the transfer and yet no one deemed it important enough to ensure that the minister was addressed personally speaks yet again to the disregard of victims in our criminal justice system," the statement added. "This has to change. Victims should and must come first."

Bloc Québécois MP Kristina Michaud said the committee already has looked into Bernardo's transfer and the focus now should be on whether any error in Magnotta's psychological assessment allowed him to be moved to a medium-security prison. Michaud amended the motion to focus on Magnotta and removed political staff from the list of witnesses to call.

Michaud said that as MPs, they shouldn't interfere in the prison transfer process and warned against using the transfers as an opportunity to engage in politics. The government has said prison transfers are decisions made independently by CSC.

The emergency meeting also came after Caputo reported he saw a hockey rink which can double as a tennis court in warmer months at the prison where Magnotta and Bernardo are held. Corrections Canada said that while there are boards up at the rink, "there has been no ice for the past two winters." CSC said "opportunities to participate in recreational activities [are] not unique to La Macaza and can be found in other institutions."

A date has not yet been set for the committee meeting on Magnotta's prison transfer.