(TORONTO, ON) – Warren (Smokey) Thomas, the president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union is demanding that Ontario’s Corrections Minister, Marie-France Lalonde, intervene in a pressing matter. Thomas says the ministry bureaucrats are stalling on plans to conduct full institutional searches of correctional facilities.
“Last December, we received ministerial permission to start conducting these searches, which involve a thorough search of the premises and a body scan of every offender,” said Thomas. “[It is] the only way to root out the weapons, drugs, and other contraband that have been circulating since before full-body scanners were installed.”
In May 2016, then Corrections Minister Yasir Naqvi announced that all correctional institutions would have full-body scanners by 2018. To date, just under half have become equipped. Previously, jails used metal detectors, which could not perceive objects like ceramic knives.
On Monday, a correctional officer at Central East Correctional Centre was slashed by an inmate using just such a knife. The officer was sent to hospital for treatment and received 24 stitches.
Thomas says the problem is the scanners, “… didn’t get rid of existing weapons. There hasn’t been a single institutional search using the full body scanners. Until those searches are carried out, correctional officers and inmates are going to be at risk from weapons like ceramic knives.”
He goes as far as to speculate that, if full institutional searches had taken place, “… the injuries that the officer suffered at Central East could have been avoided.”
According to Thomas, David Orazietti, Naqvi’s successor as minister, had approved a pilot institutional search at Maplehurst Correctional Complex. A January start for the pilot, charged Thomas, was quashed by the Assistant Deputy Minister’s Office.
The union’s suggestion to try the pilot at a smaller institution did not receive a green light.
“So here we are, eight months later, and I understand Central East will finally get a full institutional search,” Thomas said. “But, it took an officer to get savagely attacked before the bureaucrats would let it happen.”
It is his view that his union members, “… simply can’t afford to wait until more officers get injured, or worse. For the sake of everyone working or living in our institutions, we need to get rid of these lethal weapons. Right now.”
Minister Lalonde has not commented publicly on the union’s demand.