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OPSEU condemns government inaction to protect probation and parole officers

(TORONTO) – The Liberal government’s ongoing refusal to put metal detectors in Ontario’s probation and parole offices (PPOs) is putting the health and safety of the province’s probation and parole officers at serious risk.

The Ministry of Labour (MOL) is currently investigating two incidents where clients were carrying dangerous weapons when attending the probation and parole office in Newmarket. One client brandished a knife, while another was in possession of brass knuckles that had broken metal keys welded onto the top and a hypodermic needle.

“I first raised this issue with the employer and MOL over 12 years ago,” said Probation and Parole Provincial Health and Safety Worker Representative Scott McIntyre. “Over that time, we’ve filed many MOL complaints and we’ve worked hard to get the employer to agree to these potentially life-saving measures. But the employer refuses to consider them.”

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) maintains that “passive and administrative” controls are sufficient. These include putting up signs in waiting areas warning that weapons are prohibited; installing lockers where clients are asked to place their belongings; and creating a single secure interview room per office, wherein a glass window separates clients from officers

“The various compliance plans that the employer has put forward over the years, including so-called passive and administrative controls and using discretion, have failed,” McIntyre responded. “Without a metal detector in place, it’s anyone’s guess whether a client comes into the office armed.”

Concerns over safety have multiplied in recent years. Provincial Auditor General Bonny Lysyk warned in her 2014 Annual Report that over the last decade, the rate at which high- and very high-risk offenders reoffend has actually increased and is much higher than the overall average rate.

“There are too many clients and not enough probation and parole officers to supervise them,” McIntyre said. “This is especially problematic when you consider that offenders are becoming more violent and more complex to supervise. We are also seeing a spike in the number of offenders with mental health issues.”

OPSEU, which represents some 900 probation and parole officers and some 250 support staff in the province, has been working closely with probation officers and MOL investigators to persuade MCSCS to install metal detectors. But the employer has not budged, pointing out that no officers have been seriously hurt or killed on the job.

“The government is waiting for an officer to die in the line of duty before it takes this issue seriously. This is an irresponsible and reprehensible attitude to adopt,” said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of OPSEU. “I urge Premier Wynne and Minister Yasir Naqvi to take action now to ensure that our probation and parole officers enjoy the safest possible working environment.”

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Scott R. McIntyre