Riot police deployed to Remand Centre amidst strike
The RCMP riot team has been deployed to the Remand Centre, where corrections officers are involved in a wildcat strike.
A source tells CBC that the scene inside the prison is "chaotic and dangerous," as inmates are kicking and banging on their cells.
More than nine hours have passed since corrections officers responsible for staffing the afternoon shift at the Remand Centre refused to report for duty.
Dan Laville, a spokesperson for Alberta Justice, confirmed that 70 members of afternoon guard shift walked out of the facility this afternoon.
Now, the crowd outside the prison has grown to nearly 200.
In a release made late Friday night, Alberta Minister of Justice Jonathan Denis said that ensuring public safety and security is the province’s chief priority at this time.
"Although provincial correctional centres across Alberta are affected, the facilities continue to be securely operated through the assistance of police and management," he said, adding that "contingency plans are in place and being implemented as needed."
"The union is engaged in illegal job action. As a result, the Department of Justice and Solicitor General [are] filing an injunction tonight to ensure guards are back at work soon," continued Denis.
"Any threats to public safety are dealt with swiftly and seriously by this government. We will investigate this fully."
Earlier in the day
"Currently, the centre is in a lockdown mode and this is because the union has taken illegal job action," stated Laville earlier this evening.
The cause of the standoff was the suspension of two union executives who were severely reprimanded and then escorted from the workplace Friday afternoon, said Clarke McChesney, the chair for AUPE Local 003.
The men were responsible for communicating officers’ health and safety concerns to the centre’s management.
Guy Smith, President of the AUPE, is on scene and standing with the striking guards. He is describing the situation as a ‘powder keg.’
"What you see behind me is 70 workers who dedicate their professional lives to keeping Alberta safe and keeping themselves safe, and have had so many issues since they moved into this new Remand Centre about the health and safety of themselves and the inmates here," said Smith.
"They’ve been raising the issues time and time again and they’ve had some very strong advocates in this worksite — officers of the union who were speaking on their behalf — and today two of those elected officers were severely disciplined by their employer.
"As a result, these workers felt they had lost their voice, had lost their power, and took matters into their own hands."
Striking guards hope to affect positive change
McChesney says the union has given the province ample time to address the concerns raised by centre guards — but says the province simply isn’t interested.
"They haven’t listened — they didn’t listen a month before, they didn't listen the day before when we gave them a chance to slow their role and do this is some sort of timely fashion, where our officers were not at risk."
"We’ve lost people due to quitting, we have people leaving because of stress, we have a guy that got walked out of here because he said all the right stuff — maybe to the wrong guy. Clearly [the province] can’t handle the truth."
McChesney says today’s action is a clear sign that the union will now be fighting back.
The striking guards have compiled a six-page document listing their grievances, which range from personal safety concerns to larger security-based issues.
"There’s a lot of issues that still need to be addressed and we’re hoping that we can move forward with that immediately, with the officers that were walked off this property today back in the fold so we can still affect positive change," said McChesney.
"We have to be strong with this... we stay out now until we go back on our terms — not their terms... and it has to be safety first."
Contingency plans in place
CBC has learned that guards from the morning shift were ordered to remain on duty until 7:00 P.M Friday.
The centre is now being staffed by facility managers and RCMP officers. However, at least one manager who arrived late for his shift was seen being turned away from the facility by the striking guards.
CBC has learned that inmates were given dinner before the remaining guards walked out, but that staff did not finish distributing prisoner medications before management took over.
"At this point, we’ve asked the union to direct their staff back to work," said Laville. "Should that fail to happen, we will look at other options to have staff return to work."
"Our continued focus is to ensure the safety and security of the facility, including that of the inmates in the centre," he said.
"We are hoping for a quick resolution to the situation."
But Smith says it might not be so easy.
"We were determined to resolve some of these issues and instead, the situation has been extremely inflamed, obviously, to the point that we’ve taken this action, " said Smith.
"The province should be taking this extremely seriously. if they’re willing to end this, then they need to seriously listen to some of these concerns."
Job action has now spread to other Alberta facilities, said the province.
Corrections officers from the Calgary Remand Centre, Edmonton Young Offenders Centre and correctional centres in Lethbridge and Fort Saskatchewan have now also walked out in solidarity with the Edmonton Remand Centre guards.
While the standoff continues, no prisoners are permitted to enter or leave the facility and inmates are being redirected to the Queen’s Bench holding cells at the downtown courthouse. Within Remand Centre, inmates have not been permitted to leave their cells.
The new Remand Centre opened only two weeks ago. It currently holds approximately 1,100 inmates.