Feds win battle for privacy of serial killer Paul Bernardo and cop killer Craig Munro over victims’ families’ requests

The families went to court for evidence prior to the killers’ parole hearings. Instead, they got a bill from the government for $19,000

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The government of Canada waged a court battle to keep information about serial sex killer Paul Bernardo and cop killer Craig Munro from the families of their victims, and a judge has agreed it can all be kept secret.


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Then the government asked the families to pay their legal bill.

The families of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, two teenage girls who were kidnapped, brutalized and killed by Bernardo in the early 1990s, and of Toronto Police Constable Michael Sweet, who was tortured and killed by Munro in 1980 during a botched robbery, were refused information on the two inmates by the Parole Board of Canada and the Correctional Service of Canada as the families prepared for the killers’ parole hearings.

They turned to the Federal Court to intervene and the government fought them to the finish.

“They talk about the privacy interests of these guys, but these are notorious crimes, they’re public crimes. There’s nothing private about this,” said Tim Danson, a Toronto lawyer representing the families of the victims and the Toronto Police Association.


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“In my view, when people convicted of first-degree murder apply for parole and are asking to be relieved from the consequences of their life sentence and their criminal acts to be released into the public, they waive their privacy rights.”

At a court trial, documents shown to a judge or jury and evidence used to weigh the guilt or innocence of someone is routinely released to the public. Sometimes personal information of third parties is redacted, or a publication ban placed on information about a victim, but generally evidence heard in open court is available for scrutiny.


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“It shouldn’t be any different in parole hearings,” Danson said.

While parole board hearings are open to observers, the documents and reports presented at them are not available to the public; nor are transcripts or recordings of the hearings available, even to the lawyers of a victim’s family.

“All of a sudden, Paul Bernardo comes up and says, ‘Well, I want out, I’ve been rehabilitated, I’m good.’ Why should the public be denied the full evidentiary record that he and the parole board rely upon to make that decision?

“We just have to take the parole board’s word that they’re doing it correctly,” Danson said. “Well, that’s not how the freedom of the press and freedom of speech works in a democratic society.

“The way to hold government institutions accountable is by transparency and openness and we think that this is a principle of fundamental importance.”


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The way to hold government institutions accountable is by transparency and openness

lawyer Tim Danson

The parole board and the prison system have important roles in the justice system, and both have enormous impact on when and how an offender is released back into the community.

Danson didn’t want all inmate records to be an open book. He delineated those who will always be under supervision — those serving life sentences and dangerous offenders — who are asking to be released.

Bernardo is serving a life sentence for the rape and murders of Kristen French, 15, and Leslie Mahaffy, 14, near St. Catharines, Ont., and manslaughter for the death of his then-wife Karla Homolka’s 15-year-old sister, Tammy. He is designated a dangerous offender.

This June, Bernardo was denied parole for a second time, at which Kristen and Leslie’s parents spoke of their ongoing pain.


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Munro and his brother Jamie were robbing a Toronto bar in 1980 when a patron flagged down a police car and Const. Michael Sweet rushed in to intervene. The Munro brothers shot him, hitting him in the chest. Slowly bleeding to death, Sweet was held hostage for almost two hours, begging for help as Munro mocked him.

Munro was found guilty of first-degree murder. He became eligible for parole in 2005. In 2012, Munro’s unescorted temporary absences from prison were rescinded after he was caught smoking crack and hiring a prostitute while at a half-way house.

Karen (Sweet) Fraser, left, widow of Toronto police constable Michael Sweet, and their three daughters attend a 2010 press conference to announce changes they wanted to the parole system after Sweet’s killer was granted unescorted prison absences.
Karen (Sweet) Fraser, left, widow of Toronto police constable Michael Sweet, and their three daughters attend a 2010 press conference to announce changes they wanted to the parole system after Sweet’s killer was granted unescorted prison absences. Photo by National Post file photo

Munro makes periodic parole bids, which Sweet’s family attends.

Justice Glennys McVeigh did not accept the families’ arguments.

In her decision released this week, she sided with government lawyers, who strongly fought to keep the records secret. Among the government’s arguments was that the inmates did not consent to the release of their information.


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McVeigh dismissed the families’ claim of a constitutional right to the information because she deemed parole board hearings not to be judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings.

She did not accept that the open court principle — where there is a presumption of openness that is overridden only when an exceptional circumstance is deemed to be of greater importance — applies to parole hearings.

As legal victor, the government wanted the families to pay its legal costs for fighting for the killers’ privacy — in a lump sum of $19,142.27.

Lawyers for the government argued the families weren’t pursuing public interest litigation but a personal pursuit: “Their personal motivation is to use the information sought to make statements to the parole board,” the government argued.

McVeigh told the families to pay the government $4,000.

“I was very surprised the government asked for costs — my clients have suffered enough,” Danson said.

Even so, they will appeal the decision.

“I think it’s going to end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.”

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