Out of fear of COVID-19, guards at the Ottawa jail refused to work the morning shift on Tuesday over a lack of screening for anyone entering the jail, according to their union.
Some inmates told this newspaper on Tuesday that they’ve been denied tests and tension is rising at the notorious Innes Road jail.
Inmates are concerned that the virus may already be in the jail, but nobody knows for sure because they’re not being tested.
The locked-down inmates on Tuesday were fed by managers and their video conferences with lawyers were cancelled.
Ryan Graham, Ontario Public Service Employees Union local president, said guards refused to enter the jail on Tuesday and noted in a statement that the union has been pressing the Ministry of the Solicitor General for COVID-19 screening measures for anyone going into the province’s jails.
Graham said the measures are needed soon in order to protect both guards and inmates from the novel coronavirus getting inside. He said managers performed guards’ duties until the correctional workers returned to work Tuesday afternoon.
The COVID-19 virus is already in Ontario jails, including the Toronto South Detention Centre, the biggest jail in Ontario.
Ontario’s first inmate to test positive for COVID-19 was tested before he was jailed at Toronto South Detention Centre and admitted even after a public health authority warned staff he had been identified as a possible case.
The jail in Etobicoke is the second-largest jail in Canada, with around 1,500 inmates.
Some guards at other Ontario jails have also tested positive, including an outside contractor and an employee who transported inmates to various courthouses.
The ministry said it takes every possible step to ensure a safe workplace for employees and acknowledged in a statement ”that some correctional officers at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre exercised their right to refuse work. As per normal resolution process, the ministry continues to work with the Ministry of Labour to address the situation.”
It’s the second time that guards at the jail refused to work citing safety concerns, the first when they denied inmates all access to their lawyers — even by video or phone.
The guards told lawyers that legal visits were cancelled because of health concerns in this pandemic.
The video and phone calls require guards to handle equipment and be in proximity to inmates, the majority of whom are awaiting trials.
The Ottawa jail is now running at around 57-per-cent capacity with about 200 inmates.
“It denies fundamental concepts of fairness and is particularly true during a time when extraordinary decisions are being made in relation to the health and safety of those currently held in our correctional facilities,” Lamb said.
Spokesman Brent Ross of the solicitor general’s ministry said guards and inmates have been told to wash their hands and practice cough and sneezing etiquette.
“If an outbreak of any communicable disease occurs or is suspected, institution officials take immediate precautionary containment measures in accordance with operating procedures, including notifying the local Medical Officer of Health, and provincial health professionals,” Ross said.
Inmates who called this newspaper from two separate ranges said they all spent Tuesday locked-down and listening to Magic 100.3
So far, there are no reported cases at the Ottawa jail but the government has not reported any testing at the jail so far. It has done so for other jails, where inmates and staff have tested positive.