OTTAWA – The union representing Canada’s prison guards is gearing up to campaign against the law-and-order Harper government in the next election.
For the first time in 15 years, the union will urge its 7,500 members to vote ABC – Anything but Conservative.
“These guys have to get out,” said Jason Godin, national vice-president at the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
“They’ve done more damage in three years than any government has done in our entire history.”
Although the union’s constitution forbids the guards from endorsing political parties, Godin said he will be encouraging his members to vote against Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2015.
“We will be actively gearing up to campaign against the Harper government,” he said.
“We’re going to be going right into their ridings. We’ll be very visible, we’ll be challenging them up front.”
The union’s complaints stem from what it claims are increasingly dangerous working conditions such as overcrowding and double-bunking.
Earlier this month, Auditor General Michael Ferguson reported that some of Canada’s prisons are already operating over-capacity, and a planned expansion will leave them overcrowded again in a few years.
The government begs to differ.
A spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney cites statements from CSC Commissioner Don Head saying there is no link between violence and double bunking.
“Studies show that double-bunking does not have any link to violence. It doesn’t take a social scientist to see that those behind bars for violent crimes may behave violently,” Jean-Christophe de La Rue wrote in an email.
“While big union bosses are engaged in partisan political grandstanding paid for by the dues of their hardworking members, our Conservative government is standing up for the interests of frontline correctional officers.”
But the study also found that while double-bunking in the Prairie region more than doubled to 27 per cent in July 2012 from 12 per cent in 2009; incident rates increased by 70 per cent during the same period. It also says that “crowding affects the level of stress experienced by the offender and reduces the availability of programming.”
The union also takes issue with changes to the Canada Labour Code introduced in last year’s omnibus budget bill.
The changes shrink the definition of danger to exclude potential hazards and “future activity” and gives more discretion over health and safety to the minister.
Godin said the government has yet to consult with the union on major changes since becoming a majority in 2011.
“When they get tough on crime, they get tough on correctional officers,” said Godin.
“At the same time they’re making our working conditions get more dangerous, they’re gutting the Canada Labour Code, which is the most important piece of protection that we have.”
Godin said in the long run, it is Canadians who will suffer.
“In ten years time, Canadians are gonna go, ‘Oh my God what just happened?’ Because all of those people they’re putting in jail, guess what? 80 per cent of them are going to get out.”