The union representing Ontario"s front-line correctional officers says that Ombudsman André Marin"s report into excessive use of force is "a missed opportunity" to solve the underlying problem with violence in the province"s correctional facilities.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that while even one incident of excessive force is one too many, correctional officers are facing almost combat-like conditions on a daily basis.
"For years, we have been demanding that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services address the chronic overcrowding, understaffing, lack of proper policies and procedures and inadequate safety equipment in our facilities," Thomas said. "The Ministry has failed to do so, and this has led to a rise in violent incidents in our institutions that is unprecedented anywhere in the country."
Dan Sidsworth, elected provincial chair for correctional officers, is extremely concerned with some of the information released in the report.
"The Ombudsman was only able to identify a few incidents where standards were breached," Sidsworth said. "What he didn"t find was any systemic problems with excessive force, and acknowledged that almost all of our officers perform their jobs professionally and capably in a challenging work environment. However, it is troubling that Mr. Marin has also published one-sided information on cases that are before either the Grievance Settlement Board or criminal courts. We believe that this is inappropriate and does a disservice to those involved."
The union has agreed to work with the Corrections Minister to address the recommendations in the report, provided that the Ministry begins dealing with the root problems that result in daily incidents of violence in correctional facilities. This is the only way to come to an effective solution.
"The best way to deal with violent incidents in our jails is to prevent them from happening in the first place," Thomas said. "Where violence flourishes, so does the opportunity for situations to go out of control. Our correctional officers risk their lives every day to maintain order in these facilities. With hundreds of our members being assaulted each year, it"s a work environment most people cannot begin to comprehend. Give our officers the tools and training to do their jobs properly. If the Ministry does that we can ensure the number of incidents is kept to a minimum. That"s not a lot to ask for."
Warren (Smokey) Thomas 613-329-1931; Dan Sidsworth 905-691-7955