OPSEU president Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the solicitor general and deputy solicitor general’s visit to the troubled Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre in London, Ont., on Thursday was a “missed opportunity.”
“I am glad Minister Jones made the decision to visit, as it is imperative for the Minister to get a firsthand look at the developing situation and the safety implications for staff at EMDC,” Thomas told Global News in an email.
“I am disappointed, however, that the Minister did not accept OPSEU/SEFPO’s offer to accompany her on a tour of the facility. In my point of view, that was a missed opportunity to meet with front-line Corrections workers and to better understand their experiences during the last few months.”
Jones’ visit followed an appeal from OPSEU over concerns its union members have been “targeted with threats and other attempted intimidation tactics by outlaw motorcycle clubs.”
While there has been longstanding outcry over conditions at the jail, tensions appear to have escalated in recent months amid a dispute over a memorial outside of the jail and a rally following a recent inmate death – the 19th at the jail since 2009.
In a statement, Jones said she visited EMDC on Thursday “to meet with and hear from staff.”
“The daily protests over the past number of weeks have been challenging for staff at the facility, and I want to thank them for their professionalism and ongoing commitment to community safety,” she said.
“Throughout this time, ministry officials have been engaging with local justice partners to ensure the continued safety of both staff and inmates, while respecting the right of Ontarians to peacefully protest. The institution has remained secure during this time.”
Jones also extended her sympathy to the families “who are grieving the loss of loved ones or are waiting for the details offered through death investigations.”
Thomas says OPSEU is encouraging Jones to visit EMDC again, to meet with OPSEU leadership, “and to hear directly from Corrections staff.”
“Going forward, it is essential for the Ontario government to address the ongoing Crisis in Corrections. Our union has warned successive governments that years of underfunding and under-investment has seriously affected the sector and could lead to worsening outcomes,” he added.
Thomas is calling for further improvements to infrastructure and improvements to living conditions for inmates. He also invites Jones to consult with OPSEU “as she moves to solve the current situation at EMDC.”
“Our front-line members understand the challenges of the situation and are willing to work together to find solutions and ensure a positive outcome,” he said.
Last week, a ministry spokesperson told Global News that the provincial government has been making investments in the system.
Andrew Morrison said 101 new correctional officers have been hired at EMDC since June 2018, including 51 since July 2020.
He also pointed to further funding for the jail to upgrade security, program rooms, new video conferencing suites for court appearances, new officer stations, and more, as well as a yard division project that is still underway.
He added that, following a successful pilot project, “the ministry is planning to begin construction to expand direct observation units” at EMDC later this year.