Months before their spectacular helicopter escape, three Quebec inmates were already in the sights of prison and police officials who were aware they might be plotting a breakout from jail, court documents show.
Yet the three got away – and today are the object of a global alert by Interpol, making them among the world’s most wanted fugitives.
The revelation that authorities knew about the trio’s flight risk highlights a series of failings in the lead-up to the jailbreak that are almost as breathtaking as the getaway itself.
The court disclosures show that in March, the inmates went before a judge to ask for a relaxation of their detention conditions to prepare their defence on drug-trafficking charges. They also face murder charges.
The three were under the tightest prison security rating at the Orsainville Detention Centre, limited to a more restrictive wing because of “information transmitted to prison authorities by the Sûreté du Québec police about a possible escape plot,” Justice Louis Dionne wrote.
Still, for reasons that remain unexplained, the three subsequently had their security classifications loosened by the prison.
By the evening of June 7, when a helicopter dropped from the sky to pick them up on prison grounds, they had access to a less-secure prison yard and were unencumbered by handcuffs or leg shackles.
“It is incomprehensible,” says Stéphane Berthomet, a police analyst and former French police officer. “Why was their security rating decreased? How could hardened criminals become lambs within a few months? These were dangerous people who wanted to escape. It defies common sense.”
Equally baffling, he said, is that provincial police investigators reportedly told the trio they’d gotten wind of their escape plans. All that would do, Mr. Berthomet said in an interview, is prompt the three to try to find another way out of jail.
“Honestly, it’s very, very surprising,” he said.
Mr. Berthomet said an internal review of the escape, which was ordered by the provincial government last week, will need to demonstrate the three had no inside assistance.
The newest disclosures, first reported through media leaks last week, are spelled out in documents released by Quebec Superior Court on Monday after a consortium, including Radio-Canada and La Presse, challenged a publication ban.
Other legal details released from the ban indicate that one of the escapees, Serge Pomerleau, had access to a laptop in his cell, even though the prison’s director opposed the idea. The computer was supposed to be limited to software related to Mr. Pomerleau’s trial, but the warden feared the computer “posed risks as far as its ability to communicate with the outside.”
The prison escape has been a source of embarrassment for Quebec authorities, in part because it was the second by helicopter in 15 months. The breakout has gained world attention. One Irish newspaper said the “audacious” Canadian caper recalled an escape by helicopter by three Irish Republican Army leaders from Mountjoy Prison in 1973.
The provincial Orsainville jail is located on the outskirts of Quebec City.