Nova Scotia

Burnside guards shaken after inmates formed human wall during inmate beating

A violent attack on an inmate at Nova Scotia’s largest and busiest jail has left some correctional officers shaken and fearing for their safety.

46-year-old inmate at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility suffered serious injuries

Cells are seen during a media tour of renovations at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in 2018. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

A violent incident earlier this week at Nova Scotia's largest and busiest jail has left some correctional officers shaken and fearing for their safety.

A 46-year-old inmate at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in the Burnside Industrial Park in Dartmouth suffered life-threatening injuries after being beaten Monday night by up to five other inmates.

The president of the union representing correctional officers said as many as 30 other inmates formed a human wall to prevent guards from getting through.

"None of our members got injured physically in this, but they're quite shook by the force that was shown by the inmates," said Jason MacLean of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

He said his members have never seen anything like this at the jail. They noticed inmates congregating, but when they tried to move in, they were prevented from getting closer.

MacLean said he doesn't believe there was enough staff on duty that night to handle this incident.

NSGEU president Jason MacLean used to work as a correctional officer in Cape Breton. (CBC)

He also questions whether authorities will take it seriously enough to help ensure something similar doesn't happen in the future.

"I don't believe there's enough deterrent that's been put forward by the judges and by the courts to let people know that they could get serious time for doing things like this," he said. "Because the gang members that are telling them to do certain acts outweighs whatever types of the charges that they would get from court."

In MacLean's experience, inmates involved in such jail incidents get little or no additional time on their sentence. He said officers are concerned about having to testify in this case because as part of the court disclosure that would come with any charges, their personal information, including their home addresses, are given to the very inmates they guard.

The medium-security jail in Burnside has a capacity of 322 male and 48 female inmates. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Halifax Regional Police are investigating, but there is no word on when or whether charges might be laid. The Justice Department is also conducting an internal review.

There have long been safety concerns at the Burnside jail. In 2018, six inmates, including a man accused of two shooting deaths were charged after two guards were attacked.

Inmates have also raised concerns about the use of solitary confinement, held a three-week long strike calling for improvements and spoken out about conditions at the facility.

MacLean said he wants the department to look at things like screening of inmates. He said there are some who are just too dangerous to be in the general population, but they are ending up there. He also said staffing needs to be addressed, which has been a long-standing concern of the NSGEU.

Justice Minister Mark Furey said he feels the jail is safe, but he's holding off on further comment until his department's review is complete.

"I'm always concerned when violence is applied to individuals, particularly in these circumstances of custody," Furey said earlier this week. "We'll await the review and determine what, if any, steps are necessary to make changes."

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Blair Rhodes

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Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca