Skip to content

Union boss weighs in on prison riot

OPSEU says it happened because of aging infrastructure and a lack of attention to inmates with mental problems
jail, north bay turl 2016
North Bay and District Jail. Photo by Jeff Turl.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is weighing in on this weekend's riot at the North Bay Jail and it's placing the bulk of the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Ontario government.

It's also warning Ontarians that the events of this weekend could be repeated in other jails across the province.

The provincial government must replace aging facilities and boost spending on treatment for prisoners with mental health issues if it truly wants to prevent violent incidents like the riot at the North Bay Jail this past weekend, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said.

"What took place at the jail is the result of the lack of attention to inmates with mental health problems," said Steven White, president of OPSEU Local 616, which represents about 100 correctional officers and staff at the Depression-era jail. "They should be receiving separate treatment, but we have only four segregation cells because the building is so old."

A correctional officer was sent to hospital after being attacked with human excrement during the incident, which began early Saturday evening and lasted about nine hours. One unit suffered extensive damage and windows were broken in locations where inmates should not have access.

The riot at the North Bay Jail is the latest in a string of violent incidents in Ontario correctional facilities over the past couple of years. In December 2015, a riot at the Thunder Bay Jail resulted in extensive property damage and sent several correctional officers to hospital. Others underwent treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas said that while the provincial government has made some progress on easing under-staffing problems, and has plans to replace aging facilities in Thunder Bay and Ottawa, the riot in North Bay is a reminder that plenty more needs to be done to address the ongoing crisis in Corrections.

"We've been told that the jails in North Bay and Sudbury will be replaced, but we have no idea when that might be. I'm calling on the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services to act now – for the safety of staff and the security of inmates," he said.

Thomas also paid tribute to OPSEU members from the Institutional Crisis Intervention Team (ICIT) and a union negotiator who played pivotal roles in bringing the disturbance in North Bay under control.