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What It Was Like Transporting Prisoners for a Living

Here's what I learned taking people like Paul Bernardo to prison.

Paul Bernardo leaves in the back of a police car August 5, 1993, after his court appearance in St. Catharines, Ontario. Photo via Canadian Press

I transported prisoners for seven years earlier in my career. A typical day on the job had me going to the various police divisions and jails to pick up prisoners and take them to court. When I would pick them up, I'd search them, handcuff them with a chain link to cuff them together—when I would transport multiple people—and put them in the paddy wagon. On average, I was transporting about 40 to 60 prisoners a day.


I did some high profile runs, like (serial rapist and killer) Paul Bernardo after he got convicted and sentenced to life in prison. I transported him from the jail to the courthouse on the day of the verdict. He was actually a very well-spoken and smart individual, and he had a lot of charm. And I'll be honest, I can see why a woman would have been at ease with him. He was a clean-cut guy, nice personality—didn't come off as a rapist or a murderer—he was like a next-door neighbor kind of guy. Up until that day, he thought he was going to be acquitted. I can't remember word for word, but he said something along the lines of, "This is the day I'm going home." And I remember my partner and I looking at each other like, Yeah right.

We put him in the compartment right behind us, so we could keep an eye on him, and he'd look through the window and make small talk with us. He'd be like, "Hey, how's it going?" and talk about the weather.

Other high-profile people I transported were the accused in the "Just Desserts" case. The accused went to trial—it was a long, drawn-out trial. They were violent, and people on our end had a lot of trouble with them. They were uncooperative. Even in the cell area they were a handful. They stuck together trying to protect one another, and they thought they could run the show and do whatever they wanted.

More recently, I supervised the prisoners from "Project Pathfinder" takedown. It was so high profile. There were a lot of threats sent in the mail to witnesses, judges, crowns, and the police, saying they were going to be killed.


All prisoners are classified by type. There is what we call the "general population" of prisoners, and the charges are usually trafficking, simple assaults, or fraud. They're like your "normal prisoners." They have more free range of the jail. Then there are the "separates" and the "super separates" who can't be housed or transported in the same compartment as the "general population." They have less yard and facility time and privileges as the "general population." Those are the people who have sexual assault charges, or sex or abuse charges on kids. So Bernardo was a "super separate." In the jail world, that's a "no no"—you can get yourself killed—so that's why we take all the precautions by not transporting them with anyone else, and in the courthouse, we have to separate them in the cells.

But for murder, you could be in the "general population" unless you were accused of killing a child. Any crimes against children are viewed very badly in the jail world, but you could go out and kill like seven guys and they wouldn't give a shit. It's kind of weird, but that's the mentality.

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A few prisoners have tried to escape on my watch. We had this guy who managed to slip out of his cuffs, and he ended up hiding under the paddy wagon and hung on. So as the wagon pulled out of the security area, he let go, fell to the ground, and ran. But he was caught within 15 minutes. I also had this guy in the courtroom jump out of the prisoner's box and try to bolt away, so I ended up tackling him at the other end of the courtroom. Another time at Old City Hall in Toronto, when it was converted into a courthouse, one of my colleagues was bringing in a prisoner through the back, and as soon as he saw daylight, he bolted and starting running down Bay Street. He was caught 20 minutes later trying to get into a cab still handcuffed. A similar thing happened about a year ago at Old City Hall again. There was a window right behind the prisoner's box, and we've always tried to get bars on it, but the ministry has never done it. So the guy breaks the window with his elbow and jumps from the second floor and runs all the way to Queen Street. He was caught trying to get on a streetcar.


When this happens, there's a lot of adrenaline. But when it's over, we laugh and joke about it, and we make fun of whoever was transporting that prisoner. But there've been scraps—the prisoners will take a swing at us. There's some sort of fight about once a day. It was just part of the job. But people trying to escape, that happens about once a month.

Every prisoner wants to go in the "general population." No one wants to be segregated. In the jail system, being segregated or what we call "separate" or "super separate" is considered… not cool. I don't even know what the word is for it. But they have that option to be with the "general population," but most of them don't choose that because they know what will happen to them. Bernardo would never in a million years have signed a waiver saying he wanted to go into the "general population" because he knows he would have gotten killed. But he could have if he wanted to. But normally these people don't—it's very rare. Most of them have been in and out enough times to know what to expect when they're in jail.

When Bernardo first was at the penitentiary, he was basically locked up for 23 hours a day. He came out of his cell to where he had his exercise, his shower, or whatever it was that he did for that hour. He's in extreme security, so when he came out of his cell the whole institution was basically locked down.

A lot of these "separates" or "super separates" have some sort of a mental health issue. And I didn't really speak to them or see them as often as the "general population"—and they were in and out of jail so many times that that was their world and that was their life. They knew what to expect, and it didn't even phase them.

I was on a first-name basis with some of the prisoners. I would see them almost as much as I see my wife. But it's all small talk—they're human beings. Over those years, I did treat them with respect, whereas maybe before I may have been a little impatient with them. But I did treat them with respect. When I first started out, I didn't know what to expect with this job, but I was never scared. Having defense training, tactics, equipment, knowing that someone always has your back, and knowing there's always backup eases your mind quickly.

These prisoners are under my care. I have them in custody. If anything happens to them, it's my responsibility. If they need help because they're not feeling well—to deny them that right to go to the hospital or to tell them to not worry about a headache or something—you can't do that. You have to treat them the way you want to be treated. But some people still have this old mentality like screw them because they're in jail. They killed somebody. Yes, they did, but they're still under your care and control. By treating them with respect, you have less problems and less fights.

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