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Solicitor General plans visit to EMDC after union calls for help in protecting jail staff

Over a thousand people and hundreds of bikers rallied outside EMDC on July 17, 2021. Amy Mckechnie/Provided

Ontario’s solicitor general says she’s in the process of planning a visit to London, Ont., after the union representing local jail staff issued a call for the ministry to “take all necessary measures” to protect its members.

OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas alleges staff at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre have been “targeted with threats and other attempted intimidation tactics by outlaw motorcycle clubs.”

Read more: Thousands rally outside London, Ont., jail after most recent inmate death

Thomas’ letter to Solicitor General Sylvia Jones came days after thousands rallied outside the jail, including hundreds of bikers, after the latest inmate death.

Brandon Marchant, 32, was brought to the jail on July 2. By July 6, he was the 19th inmate to die since 2009.

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At the July 17 rally, families of those who had lost their lives at EMDC also placed new crosses on the lawn after a previous memorial on the provincial property was ordered removed in response to an OPSEU grievance claiming it negatively impacted the mental health of jail staff.

Read more: Lawyer, loved ones frustrated by decision to remove memorial crosses outside of EMDC

In May, the Grievance Settlement Board ordered the Ministry of the Solicitor General to remove the memorial within 90 days. The crosses were removed July 12.

Thomas claims that since the rally, members of biker gangs and other protesters “have been harassing correctional staff at the facility by stopping cars, photographing staff, and photographing licence plates. Staff have also been threatened on social media.”

“We will not tolerate attempts to intimidate these front-line heroes,” Thomas said in the July 21 letter.

“I condemn this harassment in the strongest possible terms and call on the Solicitor General to intervene immediately.”

Read more: Memorial crosses outside EMDC removed following grievance board ruling

Jones tells Global News that ministry staff have been “working closely with local London police to take the steps necessary to ensure the ongoing safety of both staff and inmates.”

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“The facility remains secure and my top priority continues to be the safety of both staff and inmates,” she said in an email.

Jones has also sent a letter to Thomas, dated July 23, in which she expressed thanks to EMDC staff “for their continued commitment to community safety” and says she recognizes that “the current circumstances are very stressful.”

“Senior leadership from Western Region has been on site at EMDC and will continue to do so during this time,” she says.

Karen Ellis, deputy solicitor general of correctional services, will also visit EMDC to “ensure that we are implementing all the necessary measures and supports to ensure their safety” and Jones herself is “in the process of making plans to meet with staff at EMDC.”

In the interim, staff are being offered secure parking at EMDC and the Ministry says a dedicated trauma counsellor will be available to all EMDC staff at this time.

— with files from Global News’ Matthew Trevithick and Kelly Wang.

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