Edmonton

Justice will be served at troubled Edmonton prison, says federal safety minister

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is promising that those responsible for triggering allegations of bullying, intimidation — and possible criminal activity — at the Edmonton Institution will be brought to justice.

'Untoward behaviour is simply intolerable and the appropriate consequences will follow' says Ralph Goodale

The Correctional Service of Canada has fired four workers at Edmonton Institution following allegations of harassment, intimidation and bullying of other staff. (Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press)

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale is promising that those responsible for triggering allegations of bullying, intimidation — and possible criminal activity — at the Edmonton Institution will be brought to justice.

"Untoward behaviour is simply intolerable and the appropriate consequences will follow," Goodale told reporters in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

The Correctional Service of Canada has fired four workers at the maximum-security prison following allegations of harassment, intimidation and bullying of other staff.

Edmonton police are also looking into possible criminal charges as a result of behaviour at the facility.

A news release Tuesday said several staff were suspended in September while the correctional service brought in investigators to look into the claims. Additional disciplinary hearings are pending.

Asked about the dual investigations at a news conference Wednesday, Goodale refused to comment on any specifics, but suggested that any additional staff found responsible for the scandal will be punished.

We need to let the process take its course so justice can be served- Ralph Goodale

The minister also refused to confirm or deny if the outgoing warden — who has since been replaced — was named in the allegations.

"I will not comment on any of the individuals involved because this is a situations that is still evolving," he said.

"We need to let the process take its course so justice can be served."

Goodale praised Don Head, commissioner of the Correctional Service of Canada, for leading the internal investigation.

The investigation will explore whether or not the toxic workplace conditions seen in Edmonton are an isolated problem.

"Commissioner Head raised that issue with me when he began the process of dealing with the circumstances in Edmonton," said Goodale.

"Head has acted in a very strong and proactive way to make a point that the type of behaviour that is being complained of is simply unacceptable, and there needs to be a very strong, vigorous response from administration."

Correctional service spokesperson Veronique Rioux said two of the fired employees worked as officers and two were managers. She said there were both men and women in the group.

James Bloomfield, regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said he represents both accused and victims in the case and can't comment further until all investigations are complete.

A workplace assessment completed last year by investigation company TLS Enterprises described the prison as a toxic environment and made dozens of recommendations for change.

The investigation began in 2017, when Head flew to Edmonton's federal prison in mid-September to personally announce both criminal and administrative investigations.

Following a months-long inquiry, CBC News learned that at least seven employees — including some managers and acting managers — were walked off the property and suspended without pay around the same time as Head's announcement.

Over the course of a year, CBC News interviewed seven past or present Edmonton Institution employees who said they had direct knowledge of sexual harassment, threats and intimidation by male staff against female employees at the facility.

The sources said female staff in general — and female prison guards in particular — are targeted by some male co-workers with degrading comments, jokes, gestures and sexual advances.

'This has not gone far enough'

Stan Stapleton, the national president of the Union of Safety and Justice Employees, said the entire workplace needs an overhaul. 

"This has not gone far enough," Stapleton said of the firings. "This has been a decades-long problem, the issue or harassment, bullying and intimidation not only at this site, but a number of sites across the country.

This goes beyond just a few bad apples- Stan Stapleton

"And I'm quite frankly surprised that it took correctional services so long to take any real serious action. This goes beyond just a few bad apples."

The correctional service said it has already increased training and created a confidential tip line for employees to report misconduct. It said new leadership will bring in further measures.

Gary Sears was appointed this week as the new warden at Edmonton Institution and France Gratton takes over as regional deputy commissioner for the Prairies.

With files from the Canadian Press