Maskwacis minimum security prison locked down after positive COVID-19 tests

The federal minimum security Pê Sâkâstêw Centre in Maskwacis has been locked down after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Two staff members test positive for COVID-19 at Pê Sâkâstêw Centre

Pê Sâkâstêw Centre, in Maskwacis, Alta., has been placed on lockdown after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19 last week. (Treasury Board of Canada )

The federal minimum security Pê Sâkâstêw Centre in Maskwacis has been locked down after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19. Another three staff members are self-isolating at home. 

A spokesperson for Correctional Service Canada told CBC News they don't believe the infected employees were in close contact with any of the inmates.

"All 43 inmates at the Pê Sâkâstêw Centre were tested on Oct. 20 and all results returned were negative for COVID-19," Kelly Dae Dash wrote in an email. "Sixty staff were tested and we are still awaiting some of their test results." 

Because of the positive test results, visits have been suspended at the facility, which is 100 kilometres south of Edmonton. Only essential staff are allowed inside and offenders are allowed an escorted leave only for essential medical reasons.

Sharon Wright told CBC News she hasn't had any contact with her loved one, an inmate at Pê Sâkâstêw Centre, since a telephone call on Oct. 21.

"He said that there was a possibility that they might be locked down because of a COVID test that had come back, he thought at the time, positive," Wright said. "Since then, we haven't heard anything. We usually talk to him on a daily basis. Usually he phones every day."

Wright asked that CBC not name the inmate she thinks of as a son in order to prevent possible backlash from prison officials. 

She contacted CBC News because she was becoming alarmed, especially with the current outbreak at the Calgary Correctional Centre

"We're always concerned," Wright said. "When you have someone in prison, it's a very dangerous situation at the best of times and with COVID, it's even more so."

A federal prison guard places handcuffs on an inmate. (Correctional Service Canada )

Until CBC News was able to obtain information from Correctional Service Canada, Wright was left in the dark. She's upset by what she calls a lack of transparency. 

"It's not the first time," she said. "There's a constant thing of us and them and of not providing information unless pushed." 

On Wednesday Wright got an email from the inmate's lawyer. 

"He talked to her this morning and asked her to send us a quick email to say he is alright but still can't use the phone," Wright said. "I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that we hear from him soon."

No federal inmate in Alberta has tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, although 123 inmates have been tested in addition to the 43 recently tested at Pê Sâkâstêw Centre.

A total of 15 staff members at six federal facilities have been infected. To date, three have recovered. 

CSC screens all employees entering the institutions and equips them with masks, face protection "and other appropriate personal protective equipment," Dash said. 

CSC has also increased cleaning and disinfecting of the facilities, she said. 

There have been 111 inmates and 26 staff members at provincial correctional facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19 since March. (CBC)

There have been far more positive cases at provincial correctional facilities which tend to have bigger staffs and populations and more inmates coming and going. 

Since the start of the pandemic, 136 provincial inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, said a spokesperson for Alberta Health Services.

During that same time, 27 provincial correctional staff members have been infected. AHS did not provide the number of current active cases at the provincial facilities. 


Janice Johnston

Court and crime reporter

Janice Johnston is an investigative journalist with CBC Edmonton who has covered Alberta courts and crime for more than three decades. She won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award in 2016 for her coverage of the trial of a 13-year-old Alberta boy who was acquitted of killing his abusive father. You can reach her at janice.johnston@cbc.ca.