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'Five feet nothing': Pickton's safety likely behind Quebec transfer, says ex-prison judge

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When serial killer Robert Pickton was transferred from British Columbia's Kent Institution to a maximum security prison in Quebec about six years ago, correctional authorities gave no public explanation or confirmation at the time, citing privacy.

But Darryl Plecas, a former prison judge at Kent who went on to be Speaker of the B.C. Legislature, says he thinks he knows why – Pickton's safety was likely at risk at Kent.

Pickton is now in a Quebec City hospital with what police there called life-threatening injuries. Correctional Service Canada said Pickton, who was being held at the Port-Cartier Institution, about 480 kilometres northeast of Quebec City, was the victim of a "major assault" that did not involve guards on Sunday.

Plecas, a criminologist who was a prison judge at Kent from 2004 to 2013, called Pickton's transfer a "lateral move."

"Why would someone be moved out of B.C.? My guess would be he got moved for security reasons," said Plecas.

He said Wednesday that notorious inmates like Pickton – who was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 2007 after being charged with the murders of 26 women – are generally put in protective and segregated custody for their own protection, not to protect others.

This was particularly likely for Pickton, said Plecas, who was familiar with the killer from his time at Kent.

He said he could not comment on whether he had dealt with Pickton as a prison judge, but Pickton's physical condition meant his personal security would have been at risk.

Plecas described Pickton as "short, frail...five feet nothing" and unlikely to pose a threat in a prison environment.

"Have you ever seen Willie Pickton? ... A hundred pounds kind of thing, like soaking wet. He is not a big guy."

Plecas said protective custody was designed to keep inmates like Pickton away from threats posed by the general prison population.

But there were still risks for certain inmates who "would be seen as unwelcome even in a protective custody unit," Plecas said.

Federal Public Safety Minister Dominic LeBlanc said Tuesday that the correctional service would review the circumstances of the attack on Pickton.

LeBlanc added that he understood Quebec police "are also seized with this matter."

He said that "interactions between inmates" are one of the most difficult things to manage in maximum security prisons, and the investigation into the Pickton attack would examine that "kind of circumstance."

"Certain hallways have certain inmates that shouldn't come into contact with others," LeBlanc said.

Plecas said his duties as a federal prison judge involved administering the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

He said he would hear cases of inmates facing weapons, drugs, smuggling and attempted-escape charges. Federal prison judges did not deal with serious assault cases, attempted murders and murders, Plecas said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2024. 

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