Following a breakdown in negotiations between their union and the provincial government last week, Ontario correctional workers could go on strike as early as January.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), a union representing 6,000 correctional workers in Ontario, rejected a tentative labour agreement with the province earlier this month.
This past Friday, follow-up negotiations failed and the union asked for a “no board report”, which means that a conciliator agrees the parties cannot come to a resolution. As a result, Ontario jail, parole and probation officers have moved closer to being in a legal strike position. If OPSEU members do go on strike, many of the 28 correctional facilities, detention centres and jails in the province would go into lockdown with only management left to take over the guards’ jobs.
What could this mean for prisoners?
Union workers are already concerned about overcrowding and understaffing in Ontario jails. Earlier this month, an officer at a Thunder Bay jail was taken hostage when a group of prisoners took over a section of the jail.. In November, 20% of the 884 inmates at the Toronto South Detention Centre in Etobicoke went on a hunger strike in protest of problems related to chronic understaffing. At Toronto South, lockdowns occur quite frequently. Inmates are confined to their cells, they are often unable to meet with their lawyers and showers become rare. According to some inmates, conditions are so bad that they are arriving hours late for court dates. Toronto South’s reputation has spread throughout the criminal defence bar and the judiciary.
According to Kelly Hannah-Moffat, director of the Centre of Criminology and Socio-legal Studies at the University of Toronto, a lockdown would mean that prisoners would be confined to their cells without access to communal spaces, classes, or even doctor’s appointments.
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