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Quebec jail warned about possible escape attempt involving three fugitives

MONTREAL - Officials at a Quebec jail where three prisoners made a daring escape by helicopter were warned about a possible breakout attempt.

Newly released court documents suggest that Quebec provincial police gave jail officials intelligence on a possible jail break conspiracy involving the three men.

Yves Denis, 35, Denis Lefebvre, 53, and Serge Pomerleau, 49, escaped from the Orsainville Detention Centre in suburban Quebec City on June 7.

Acknowledgment of the existence of a possible conspiracy is contained in Justice Louis Dionne's judgment dated March 24. Dionne had been asked to rule on the strict security conditions which the inmates argued impeded preparations for their defence in court.

"The classification of the applicants in this wing stems from information sent to the prison by the Surete du Quebec (provincial police) about a possible conspiracy to help them escape," Dionne writes.

The trio fled after a chopper landed in a courtyard, scooped them up and quickly took off.

The three men are now the subject of an Interpol red notice list, which places the Quebec escapees among the world's most wanted fugitives.

The red notice serves to make an eventual extradition easier if in fact the inmates have fled the country. It follows a so-called orange notice to law-enforcement agencies in 190 countries.

A massive manhunt has yielded no sign of the men.

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

They were among a number of people swept up in an effort dubbed Operation Ecrevisse (Project Crayfish), aimed at bringing down a drug trafficking ring in northwestern Quebec.

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

Dionne's judgment was partially released last week and the full version was made public on Monday.

The three escapees, along with a fourth accused, had presented a motion a few months ago suggesting their detention conditions were too strict and they weren't able to properly prepare for a trial.

The ruling noted the three fugitives were housed in a secure wing of the detention centre, requiring they be handcuffed and shackled when they were moved.

The judgment notes the classification is temporary and is renewed on a weekly basis, but it's up to the inmates to show they can be put back into a different area.

Earlier, Dionne had released his decision, which gave the detainees access to a secured computer for their trial preparation. The ruling also stated they didn't have to wear handcuffs during proceedings and would be allowed to go into the prison yard on weekday evenings, prison staffing permitting.

The escape occurred on a Saturday evening.

Dionne did not rule on security levels, which are a detention centre prerogative.

The Orsainville Detention Centre, about 10 kilometres from the centre of Quebec City, can hold up to 710 offenders.

There's been a political fallout on the escape as well.

After a series of incidents where she made conflicting statements, Public Security Minister Lise Theriault told reporters she would not longer comment on the escape.

Theriault, who also serves as deputy premier, insisted that government officials have misled her and complicated her job.

The gaffes prompted calls from the Opposition for her to step down from the post.

Four days after the daring escape, the government ordered an internal investigation into the breakout.

The administrative probe will study what happened in the recent escape as well as another similar one last year.

During a March 2013 helicopter escape, two inmates grabbed onto a rope dropped from a chopper at the St-Jerome detention centre and were spirited away.

They were later recaptured.

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