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Quebec announces new measures against helicopters at jails

The prison yard of the Orsainville Detention Centre near Quebec City is shown on Saturday June 7, 2014. Quebec Provincial Police say three inmates have escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre using a helicopter.

Francois Vachon/The Canadian Press

The Quebec government will install equipment at several detention centres aimed at preventing helicopters from being used in escapes like the one that happened last weekend.

Temporary measures will be put in place in co-operation with the federal government, such as forbidding air traffic over the institutions, Public Security Minister Lise Thériault said Tuesday.

Ms. Thériault said the measures will be implemented gradually.

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The government action comes in the wake of a spectacular escape on the weekend in which three inmates fled from one of Quebec's largest facilities using a helicopter.

Yves Denis, Denis Lefebvre and Serge Pomerleau escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre in suburban Quebec City on Saturday evening when a helicopter landed in a courtyard, scooped them up and quickly took off.

Police say the three men were originally arrested on drug-trafficking and gangsterism charges in 2010.

The Quebec provincial police website also says Mr. Denis, 35, is facing first-degree murder charges, while Mr. Lefebvre, 53 and Mr. Pomerleau, 49, are facing charges of murder and conspiracy to murder.

Ms. Thériault said it is important to get the measures in place.

"What we want to do is to ensure we have temporary measures so we have the time to install the rest of the equipment that will stop helicopters from landing," she said.

"That's a little more complicated than you would think."

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In the legislature, interim Parti Québécois Leader Stéphane Bédard cited a newspaper report that said Quebec provincial police knew since March that the three inmates posed a high risk of escape.

"The police also knew that a helicopter would be involved and had an idea who the pilot was," he said.

"For these reasons, the three individuals were given the highest security classification – S5 – which meant they could not go outside alone and had to have their hands tied so they could not escape."

Mr. Bédard tried in vain to find out details of why a judge loosened security restrictions on the men.

He argued that the conditions of their incarceration are no longer covered by a publication ban imposed at their trial but Ms. Thériault insisted the ban is still in force.

Saturday's helicopter escape had similarities to another bold jailbreak in Quebec.

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A helicopter pilot was forced at gunpoint to fly to a prison in St-Jérôme in March, 2013.

Two convicts climbed a rope ladder into the hovering helicopter and fled.

The two escapees and the two men accused of hijacking the copter were picked up by police in Mont-Tremblant, about 85 kilometres away, within a few hours of the escape.

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