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Stabbing decision a verdict on the government – not officers: OPSEU

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents Ontario’s 4,500 correctional officers, is warning that a judge’s not-guilty verdict in the case of an inmate stabbing a fellow inmate is yet another wakeup call for a government slow to deal with the crisis in corrections.

The accused had used a weapon fashioned from ceramic to defend himself from an attack by two other inmates. Inmates are forbidden to make or carry weapons of any kind.

“While I have the greatest respect for Ontario’s judiciary, I have to wonder whether the judge took enough time to consider the impact of his choice of words,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “To characterize correctional officers’ response to the incident as ‘lackadaisical’ distorts the reality of what happened and the challenges that correctional officers face every day.”

Monte Vieselmeyer, chair of OPSEU’s Corrections Division, agreed with Thomas.

“Before you enter a crisis situation, you’ve got to be sure you can handle it. When three inmates are involved in an altercation, one correctional officer can’t charge in on his own. You need to have more officers to secure everyone’s safety – especially when, incredibly, the ministry denies officers any training to defend against knives.

“The problem is, with the crisis in corrections that we’ve been living through for years now, there just aren’t enough correctional officers available at any given moment to respond to emergencies,” Vieselmeyer continued. “They’re spread too thinly and we have to wait till they arrive.

“As for the judge’s ruling, it seems to imply we don’t care about inmates’ safety. This is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. There aren’t separate codes for inmates and officers in danger. There’s one code. We react just as quickly to rescue an inmate as we do an officer. It’s that simple.”

Thomas laid the blame for the incident and the ruling squarely at the feet of the government.

“The crisis in corrections was created by this government. They imposed a three-year hiring moratorium. They hired the private sector to build costly and unsafe jails that don’t work. They refused to install full-body scanners. They starved the mental health system so that individuals with mental health issues get jail sentences instead of care.

Before he was shuffled away, Minister Naqvi made a lot of commitments to fix things. So I ask Minister Orazietti: Are you as committed to addressing the crisis? Or did the crisis disappear along with the former minister? We call it a ‘crisis’ for a reason. Give correctional officers the tools and support they need to do their job. Stop your dithering. Or are you waiting for someone to be killed?”

For more information: Monte Vieselmeyer, 705-627-1942

Related: Crisis In Corrections index page