TORONTO – An alleged inmate assault on staff at a Toronto jail has resulted in roughly 200 employees refusing to carry out non-essential tasks at the facility, the head of a major Ontario union said Monday.
Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said eight union members were injured in the weekend incident at the Toronto South Detention Centre that allegedly saw a group of inmates attacking guards.
Thomas said facility staff have responded with a “work refusal” that went into effect Monday. He said that while all essential services continue to operate, non-essential work would not resume until what he described as long-term staffing issues in Ontario’s correctional system are addressed.
“There’s too many inmates for too few staff,” Thomas said of many detention facilities, including Toronto South. “It’s just a recipe for trouble.”
Jail visits at Toronto South have been cancelled and inmates are no longer being processed for court appearances in a timely manner as a result of the labour disruption, Thomas said.
Details about the alleged assault, which Thomas said unfolded on Saturday, were sparse.
He claimed guards were attacked by an unknown number of inmates, some of whom allegedly wielded homemade weapons. Two of the eight injured union workers were sent to hospital, Thomas said, adding that they have since been released.
Toronto police said they were aware of the labour disruption at the jail, but did not have details on its impacts or on the alleged attack that triggered it.
Thomas said both past and present-day provincial governments are to blame for the current situation at the Toronto jail, which he said is replicated in facilities as far-flung as Elgin-Middlesex and Thunder Bay, Ont.
He said the previous Liberal government opened Toronto South without adequate staff in place to oversee inmates housed there. Thomas said the situation has not improved since the Progressive Conservatives took power in June.
“The Tories, when they were in opposition, promised our members the earth, the sun, the moon and everything in between,” he said. “Since they’ve been elected, they’ve instituted a hiring freeze.”
Andrew Morrison, a spokesman with the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, did not offer comment on staffing levels at Toronto South.
He said the facility is currently on lockdown as officials discuss the labour disruption with impacted staff.
“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,” Morrison said without providing specifics on those measures.
“Violence within Ontario correctional facilities is unacceptable and the ministry has zero tolerance when it comes to assaults or threats involving its staff.”
Morrison added that the ministry has protocols in place to maintain operations when corrections staff exercise their right to refuse work.
Thomas said the government should bolster staffing levels at the jail right away, while addressing the longer-term issue by hiring more correctional staff on a full-time basis.