About 200 employees are refusing to work at the Toronto South Detention Centre on Monday after correctional officers at the provincial jail were allegedly assaulted by several inmates on the weekend, the head of an Ontario union says.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents staff at the jail, said the job action, mainly by officers, stems from an alleged “attack” on Saturday night.
“There’s currently a work refusal in play,” Thomas told CBC Toronto.
“The real crux of the problem is the government either can’t, or won’t, hire enough people to staff the place safely,” he said. “We are trying to sort this out. We are trying to make the place safe.”
Thomas said the union wants “adequate, safe staffing” on every shift at the jail, which is located in Etobicoke near the Gardiner Expressway and Kipling Avenue.
Jason Groeneveld, president of OPSEU Local 5112, told reporters outside the jail that a group of inmates staged what looked like a fight inside a cell on Saturday night.
When officers went to investigate, the inmates turned on them. Two officers were punched in the head and had garbage cans thrown at them. They suffered concussion-like symptoms and facial scratches, Groeneveld said.
He said the officers retreated but were chased to their work station, where they called for help. Assistance did arrive but not from the Toronto police. The two officers went to hospital and went home the next day. They have not returned to work.
He said 37 inmates were involved in the incident.
“Assaults on staff are becoming very common,” he said. “We hope to get a meaningful resolution out of this.”
Police said they were not called on Saturday night to the jail and Toronto paramedics declined to say whether or not they attended.
Jail locked down
The Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, meanwhile, said it is aware of the work refusal.
The jail is currently locked down and the job action is being investigated, officials said.
“When corrections staff exercise their right to refuse work, the ministry has protocols in place to maintain operations,” spokesperson Andrew Morrison said in an email on Monday.
Morrison said if the situation cannot be resolved, officials can refer it to the Ontario Ministry of Labour.
“Frontline correctional workers do a difficult but vital job, under very challenging conditions. The ministry is developing additional tools and supports to keep frontline staff and those in custody safe,” he added.
“Violence within Ontario correctional facilities is unacceptable and the ministry has zero tolerance when it comes to assaults or threats involving its staff.”
Inmates who are violent while in custody could face what he called “misconduct penalties,” including loss of privileges .
If a correctional staff member or an inmate is assaulted or threatened, police are called, he said.
Labour disruption could affect court appearances
The Ontario Ministry of Labour is reportedly on the scene to investigate, OPSEU officials say, but officials from that ministry haven’t responded to a request for comment.
Police said they have been made aware of the job action and said there is a possibility that it could affect the transfer of inmates from the jail to Ontario courts for appearances on Monday.
“As of current, there are no indications that any court proceedings are disrupted due to the work refusal,” Katrina Arrogante, spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, said in an email.
For its part, the union would like to obtain security camera video of the weekend incident and review the footage with ministry officials and its own health and safety committee to prevent further violence.
“There are cameras everywhere,” Thomas noted.
OPSEU represents about 9,000 correctional workers in Ontario. The union members work in institutions, such as jails, and in community corrections, primarily in probation and parole offices