Edmonton Remand Centre workers refuse to search for drugs

After fentanyl and carfentanil were found in the cell of an inmate who died at the Edmonton Remand Centre last Friday, 15 workers refused to conduct cell searches, according to CBC sources.

Temporary halt to searches after carfentanil found last Friday

A search for drugs at the Edmonton Remand Centre was halted over the weekend while Occupational Health and Safety investigated the protective gear given to staff. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

After fentanyl and carfentanil were found in the cell of an inmate who died at the Edmonton Remand Centre last Friday, 15 workers refused to conduct cell searches, according to CBC sources.

Three filed work refusals, citing  "imminent danger." Another 12 refused to perform searches without completing paperwork. 

Maxim Baril-Blouin, 26, died Friday morning due to a suspected drug overdose.

After his death, workers at the centre refused to conduct a search because "insufficient PPE (personal protective equipment] is being used," states a report obtained by CBC News.

The report, prepared by the employer, documents the work refusals and subsequent Occupational Health and Safety Investigation.

According to the report, the employees were upset about a team being sent in to search a cell with "only an N95 respirator being used and no other PPE."

The search was halted when employees claimed the N95 filter, shown above, does not offer sufficient protection. (Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press)

The employees requested N100 respirators, equipped with better filters, along with Tyvek suits, goggles and nitrile gloves.

"It was confirmed that the team assigned to the search had N95 respirators and blue nitrile gloves, but were not utilizing Tyvek suits as no fentanyl was visibly present," the report said.

Agreement reached

On Saturday, an agreement was reached between management and staff to allow the search for drugs to continue.

All areas of the remand centre, except for one unnamed "pod," were deemed to be minimal exposure risk.

Staff were told they could protect themselves with black nitrile gloves and an N95 respirator. The Tyvek suit and goggles were not mandatory, but would be available to officers who wanted to use them.

Staff assigned to search the lone pod, designated as a moderate exposure risk, were given a Tyvek suit with black nitrile gloves taped to the suit, goggles and a full-face (N100) respirator.

A spokesperson with Alberta Justice confirmed the remand centre search was completed at 8:30 p.m.Wednesday and the facility lockdown was lifted. It's not known if more drugs were found.

On Thursday, an Alberta Union of Provincial Employees spokesperson would not comment on worker safety concerns because he said the "events" at the remand centre last weekend have been "placed under review."

But a news release issued by AUPE Wednesday noted the union's occupational health and safety team had "worked to ensure staff were equipped with the proper protections to safeguard their health and safety while they conduct searches."

The release noted that correctional peace officers "have a tough and often dangerous job that's full of a number of risks, including exposure to opioids and other drugs."

Alberta Health Services reports that there have been 11 suspected overdoses at the Edmonton Remand Centre so far in 2018.

That includes the eight from last weekend and three suspected overdose deaths earlier in the year.