In the wake of two incidents in Newmarket, Ont., where two probation and parole clients brought weapons with them when visiting their officers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is speaking out publicly about insufficient security in the province’s parole and probation offices.
Ontario’s probation and parole offices are currently protected with “passive and administrative” controls, such as lockers in which clients must place all belongings, signs warning that weapons are prohibited and secure interview rooms — areas in which officers and clients are separated by glass partitions. But in a media release sent out on July 20, OPSEU warned that these measures weren’t enough.
“We have weapons, anything from guns, knives, brass knuckles, hypodermic needles, entering our offices right across the province,” Scott R. McIntyre, OPSEU’s probation and parole provincial health and safety worker representative, told COHSN. “We’re not talking one or two incidences a year. We’re talking three, four, five — sometimes, it’s a dozen weapons incidents in a single month.”
McIntyre said that the union had been lobbying for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) to increase security at the offices since 2003. Now, OPSEU is demanding the installation of metal detectors. “We’re looking for an engineering control that’s universal, where it’s not reliant upon officer discretion, and the employer has vehemently opposed the introduction of metal detectors, stating that it would negatively change the treatment milieu of the office,” he explained. “They’ve made it very clear that they’re adamantly opposed.
“However, our own Ministry’s health and safety policy states that the health and safety welfare of its employees, which are its greatest assets, is of primary importance and overrides all other considerations.”
McIntyre cited one of the Newmarket incidents, which took place in 2013, involving a client on a routine visit to the probation office. Initially stable, the client eventually became upset, pulled out a knife and threatened suicide, he said. The probation officer de-escalated the incident, and the Ministry of Labour (MOL) later investigated, but nothing came of it in terms of improved security measures.
MCSCS spokesperson Brent Ross said in an e-mailed statement that the Ministry considered the safety of its probation and parole officers to be of paramount importance.
“Every probation and parole office has security protocols in place, which we are always working to improve,” said Ross. “That is why we have been working closely with OPSEU through the Joint Provincial Health and Safety Committee to review the security at our probation and parole offices. Once complete, recommendations will be brought forward for consideration by the ministry.”
According to McIntyre, the MCSCS initially opposed lockers and secure interviewing areas when OPSEU lobbied for them 12 years ago — saying that the enhanced security would affect office milieus in a negative way. “We know 10 years later, it has not,” he noted
“Their fallback position is, ‘Hey, we don’t need to go to metal detectors because we’ve got lockers, we’ve got secure interview rooms.’ It’s interesting that what they opposed over 10 years ago, they’re now using it,” added McIntyre. “But they’re failing. They’re failing.”
Although McIntyre was not aware of any prior incidents in which a probation or parole officer had been shot or stabbed, he said that there had been some assaults and near misses.
“The police have intercepted offenders in the past who have threatened their probation officers with bodily injury and death,” he said. “And we know that eventually, we will have a fatality, God forbid, and we’re asking the employer to be proactive, as compared to reactive.”
The MCSCS has until July 31 to comply with a recent order from the MOL to initiate a plan for better control measures, said McIntyre.