Conditions in Dorchester prison unit too dangerous for staff, union says

The minimum security unit of the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick has been in lockdown for three days because staff say it is currently too dangerous.

Corrections officers in minimum security unit have been refusing to work since Thursday

The minimum security unit of the Dorechester penitentiary has been under lockdown since Thursday due to a work refusal, says a union representative. (Facebook)

The minimum security unit of the Dorchester Penitentiary in New Brunswick has been in lockdown because staff say it is currently too dangerous for them to perform their jobs, a union representative says.

Corrections officers who work in that section of the prison have been refusing to work since Thursday afternoon, said Jeff Wilkins, the Atlantic regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.

In the meantime, work is being performed by supervisors at the institution, he said.

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

Wilkins said Employment and Skills Development Canada is investigating the complaint so he couldn't divulge what prompted the work refusal.

On Saturday, Émile Belliveau, assistant warden at the penitentiary, said the lockdown was put in place "to allow the resolution of a health and safety issue," but wouldn't give any further details.

Belliveau wasn't immediately available for comment Sunday.

Section 128 of Canada Labour Code states that an employee may refuse to work in a place or perform an activity if the employee has "reasonable cause" to believe that the work is too dangerous for three reasons:

  • that the use or operation of the machine or thing constitutes a danger to the employee or to another employee
  • a condition exists in the place that constitutes a danger to the employee
  • and/or the performance of the activity constitutes a danger to the employee or to another employee.

Investigation into complaint underway

Wilkins said he wasn't sure how long the federal investigation would take.

"It all really depends on nature of the complaint and how many people are working on it," he said. "We hope that it's expedient."

The lockdown has disrupted the prison's "normal routine" but because it's a minimum security facility, he said conditions for inmates are not as stringent as they would be in a medium or maximum security facility.

"There are medical escorts or visits, there's things that are being done, and there's an ongoing conversation as to what work will be performed," he said. 

About the Author

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC New Brunswick

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.