TORONTO - TORONTO - It’s an airplane flight where there is no need for a pre-board screening since every passenger is already a threat and a danger.
No metal detectors needed since they are all wearing shackles.
In the last year, QMI Agency has learned, between a dozen and 20 of these flights have been made.
It starts when vans full of constrained federal prisoners pull up on the tarmac to an awaiting Boeing 737 ready to transfer on average 50 convicts across the country to their new lockup.
Armed guards supervise as one by one the inmates in prison-issue garb climb the stairs and head to their designated seats.
It’s a delicate operation.
“We are very careful in the escort,” said one corrections officer who has been on several of these flights. “They are all in body belts, which are leg irons and handcuffs that don’t allow them to move more than four inches, but you just never know what could happen.”
Sound like a movie?
It’s not only real life but it happened this week at CFB Trenton.
“It’s not unusual, with the Kingston Pen closing there are too many prisoners and not enough cells,” a Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) source said. “It’s been going on for a year. There are flights like this every month and at least one this week.
“It’s quite an operation transporting all of these offenders.”
The flights on the 112-seat 737-200C Series passenger jet leave from Kingston or CFB Trenton with a destination of Winnipeg, Edmonton or British Columbia. Flights on a smaller, 45-seat turbo-prop plane head for Quebec or the East Coast.
CSC would not comment on whether the chartering of an airline is related to the closing of the Kingston Penitentiary and other institutions, which created a need to find housing for an estimated 500 prisoners.
“There are just not enough beds right now because the Pen is closing this week, and most of the stuff they are building to replace it at Bath Institution and other locations are not yet finished,” a CSC insider said.
“Some offenders find themselves being shipped out to places like Dorchester Pen in New Brunswick or as far as Matsqui Institution (in Abbotsford) or Mountain Institution (in Agassiz) out in British Columbia.”
It’s an Air Inuit charter flight operation.
It’s a non-fiction Con Air -- Canadian style.
Fiction sometimes is not as strange as the truth.
“Oh yeah, it can get pretty interesting,” a correctional officer said. “Let’s just say not every inmate wants to get on these planes.”
Some have never even been on an airplane before. Others are upset they have to leave the region.
“Mostly the problems come when, for example, a guy is from Ontario and is told he is going to have to be moved to B.C.,” said an officer. “Some of them have families, wives and children who live in Kingston who don’t want to be thousands of miles away.”
So what is this costing the taxpayer?
“It must be a lot,” said a guard. “I wonder if they should have kept Kingston Pen open for another year instead so they wouldn’t have to do this.
“Things right now are all messed up. They put the cart before the horse and the cart is on the moon.”
Spokesman Sara Parkes said “CSC abides by the rules put in place by Public Works and Government Services Canada” and referred further questions to them.
But several public documents show the government has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Montreal-based Air Inuit, which prior to this project had transported offenders to Quebec from northern and Arctic locales.
Air Inuit Ltd., owned by the Makivik Corporation, a Crown-like company owned by Quebec’s Inuit population, is shown in documents to have billed the Government of Canada for “non-public servant charter fees" of $45,000, $90,204.61 and $116,982.89 — the same period the convict flights are taking place, although a direct link to the dozen or more flights in question was not confirmed.
Air Inuit did not provide a comment.
Meanwhile, for security reasons the inmates are not always privy to the flights.
“I have seen some guys actually get on kicking and screaming,” a guard said.
“Sometimes guys will spit on or at the officers so we have to put a spit shield on them.”
Other inmates are co-operative and enjoy the ride. It’s something different than the normal, stark, daily routine.
A cold meal is offered on the flight. “It’s usually a sandwich and a juice or pop,” a guard said. It’s all served by a regular flight attendant crew.
The officer said they “keep an eye” on the safety of the flight crew “but there has never been any trouble toward a crew member or pilots.”
Once on board the escort officers are no longer armed but are trained in how to subdue an inmate if there is any trouble and have tape if needed.
There are no air miles points being collected or in-flight movies.
“No, not on this flight,” the officer said. “We just sit there and watch them the whole way. You never take any chances.”