Security measures were loosened for Quebec inmates who escaped by helicopter

Security measures for three men who escaped from prison in a helicopter were loosened just a day before their daring getaway, Quebec’s deputy premier said Monday.

MONTREAL — Security measures for three men who escaped from prison in a helicopter were loosened just a day before their daring getaway, Quebec’s deputy premier said Monday.

Lise Theriault said a judge granted a request by the trio on Friday to have more flexible detention conditions, including the possibility they no longer had handcuffs.

Theriault, who is also public security minister, told a news conference she doesn’t know why the judge agreed to the request.

“On Friday, the prisoners petitioned a judge to have their measures of confinement loosened and the judge agreed,” she said.

Yves Denis, Denis Lefebvre and Serge Pomerleau escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre in suburban Quebec City on Saturday evening when a chopper 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 Denis, 35, is facing first-degree murder charges, while Lefebvre, 53 and Pomerleau, 49, are facing charges of murder and conspiracy to murder.

“The No. 1 priority right now is to capture the three fugitives and get them back behind bars,” Theriault said in Nicolet, Que.

Theriault defended police as they continued their search for the convicts.

“It’s not easy,” she said. “Quebec is big. There are a lot of places where people can hide.”

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

A helicopter pilot was forced at gunpoint to fly to a prison in a St-Jerome 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 chopper were picked up by police in Mont-Tremblant, about 85 kilometres away, within a few hours of the escape.

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