Dorchester prison lockdown ends after federal investigators find 'no danger' to staff

A three-day lockdown at Dorchester Penitentiary over staff safety concerns ended Sunday after federal investigators determined there was "no danger," according to the assistant warden of management services.

3-day lockdown, which ended Sunday, was put in place because staff felt it was too dangerous to work

Dorchester Penitentiary is a multi-level security institution near the Village of Dorchester. The minimum-security unit of the federal prison was under a lockdown between Thursday and Sunday, because staff were concerned about their safety. (Facebook)

A three-day lockdown at Dorchester Penitentiary over staff safety concerns ended Sunday after federal investigators determined there was "no danger," according to the assistant warden of management services.

The minimum-security unit of the prison, located about 55 kilometres southeast of Moncton, was placed under a lockdown Thursday around 4 p.m., because staff felt it was too dangerous for them to perform their duties.

Émile Belliveau said he could not discuss what prompted the concerns, citing confidentiality.

"It's in relation to something that happened here and we can't divulge that information," he told CBC News on Monday.

But officials from Employment and Social Development Canada's health and safety division were on-site, investigated the "issue" and "ruled out" any danger, said Belliveau.

Normal operations resumed late Sunday afternoon, he said.

"The safety and security of the institution is CSC's [Correctional Service Canada's] primary concern," Belliveau had said in an emailed statement at the time.

Investigation still 'active'

Employment and Social Development Canada spokesman Josh Bueckert also declined to discuss any details.

"The Labour Program has rendered a decision," he said in an emailed statement.

"This decision can be appealed and until the appeal period has expired, the investigation is deemed to be active. As a result, we cannot comment on the specifics, nor can we share publicly any related documents."

According to the department's website, the employee, employer and workplace committee or representative must be provided with a written report within 10 days.

An employee who feels aggrieved by a decision that no danger exists or that refusal to work is not permitted under section 128(2) of the Canada Labour Code then has 10 days after receiving the written decision to appeal in writing to an appeals officer, the website states.

Employees have the right to refuse dangerous work "as long as they have reasonable cause to believe that it presents a danger," but the code does contain certain exceptions, said Bueckert.

"These exceptions include: if the refusal puts the life, health or safety of another person directly in danger; or, the danger in question is a normal condition of employment," he said.

Managers did 'some of the work'

Jeff Wilkins, the Atlantic regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Over the weekend, Wilkins told CBC News that work was being performed by supervisors at the institution.

The assistant warden confirmed "a group of managers were doing some of the work."

"The [correctional]  officers were also there, but just to make sure everything went well, we had extra staff on reserve to deal with some of the issues that were being raised," said Belliveau.

He said he didn't know how many correctional officers would normally be working, but he said five or six extra officers are on reserve.

About 220 inmates are housed in the minimum security unit, which is made up of "condo-style apartments," each housing four or five inmates, said Belliveau.

During a lockdown, inmates are confined to their rooms or dormitories and if they have to leave, they're escorted by staff.

The medium-security unit can house up to 397 inmates.

With files from Sarah Petz