CALGARY (Canadian OH&S News)
The correctional peace officer’s union in Alberta said the blame game the government is playing with its workers in the event of an assault is creating an overly-stressful workplace.
About 140 members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, primarily correctional officers, held a rally on Feb. 1 outside the Calgary offices of Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Jonathan Denis in protest of what the union called is a lack of support from the employer during incident investigations — something that is becoming more common as the prisons become more crowded.
Union president Guy Smith said that, especially in the Calgary and Edmonton remand centres, there is often double- and triple-bunking of inmates, and as assaults on staff and inmates rise, “it’s become an intolerable situation, especially when the employer’s response is to try and find fault with something that an officer did. That’s obviously put a lot of stress on the front lines, especially when officers are in a situation where they’re second-guessing themselves or they’re not responding to a situation as instinctively as they might because they’re concerned the situation they get in might be looked at a certain way by their employer. It’s created more uncertainty and potential for violence in the institutions.”
The internal investigation process has become “more like interrogations,” where workers feel like the employer has already laid the blame and are simply using the investigation process to build a case against them.
“Obviously if something is done that an officer could have done differently or done it better, then it’s good to find that out and provide extra training or direction if need be,” he explained. “One thing correctional peace officers need is support from their employer to do this extremely difficult job. If they feel they’re not going to get support right off the bat, it adds to the stress of the job.”
The minister of justice and solicitor general met with Smith after the protest for a meeting, which Smith said was encouraging, and the minister was open to continuing discussions and acknowledged that corrections officers had legitimate concerns, Smith said. “I was encouraged by his response that he wants to do whatever he can to try to alleviate them.”
No one from Alberta Justice could be reached for comment before press time.
A new remand centre is being built in Edmonton that will help reduce overcrowding and also hopefully reduce incidents of violence in the existing centre, but it is the cultural shift towards one of “intimidation and fear” that has developed over the past three or four years that needs to change, Smith explained. “Before, the department had the backs of the workers, acknowledged them and encouraged them and respected them.”
Monte Bobinski is the union’s oh&s co-chair and liason for Local 003, which covers correctional and regulatory services in the province and has about 2,300 members. He alleged staff are not being allowed to view evidence — such as video or audio tapes of incidents — when preparing to defend themselves in investigations. He also said that including correctional peace officers in Bill 1, which provides presumptive PTSD coverage for first responders and was introduced this year, would have gone a long way towards mending bridges.
“In a jail, I am a first responder. My co-worker is a first responder. We see things and experience things day in and day out that would subjugate somebody to post-traumatic stress disorder for sure, and it would be nice to be included, rather than excluded, on that Bill 1,” he said. “It would be nice to have additional resources to go up against the additional stresses.”