Nova Scotia

Riot at Waterville youth corrections facility under investigation

The Nova Scotia Justice Department is investigating a riot that injured four youth workers at a correctional facility on Sunday.

Union questions security procedures at Nova Scotia Youth Facility

Union leaders are concerned about adequate training and staffing levels at the facility.

An investigation is underway into a violent incident at the youth correctional facility in Waterville, N.S.

Four youth workers were injured and sent to hospital after violence broke out Sunday night, said Nova Scotia RCMP, which was called in to handle the situation at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility.

'First time in over 30 years'

An 18-year-old man faces two counts of assault while carrying a weapon and one charge of taking part in a riot. A 19-year-old man is charged with taking part in a riot and damaging property. Two 17-year-old males were also arrested but not charged.

"This is the first time in over 30 years that there's been an incident like that at Waterville," Nova Scotia Justice Minister Diana Whalen said at the legislature Thursday.

Diana Whalen said Thursday the investigation into the violent incident will include assessing training. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Security questioned

The head of the union that represents the youth workers questions some of the security procedures at the facility.

The workers sustained "very serious injuries," said Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union.

The attack occurred during shift change after an offender asked to go to the washroom, MacLean said. When the person left the cell, the others hit a button in their cells known as "gang open," he said.

"All the doors opened up and they attacked staff and staff called for help," MacLean said.

'Very surprised'

MacLean, who was a corrections officer himself before taking the job as union president, said he doesn't know the purpose of the "gang open" buttons. Those buttons were removed in New Brunswick 17 years ago, he said.

"I actually was very surprised to see the gang opening was happening here," he said.

Union leaders are also concerned about adequate training and staffing levels and are arranging meetings to address those concerns.

"I don't believe that facility is treated as a correctional facility," MacLean said.

Jason MacLean, NSGEU vice president, questions some of the security procedures at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility after RCMP say a riot broke out Sunday. (CBC)

'Good level of staff'

Training will be dealt with by the investigation, Whalen said, but she was not sure the number of workers at Waterville is an issue.

The Justice Department employs 12 to 14 youth workers per 12 hour shift. In the last fiscal year, the facility had on average 29 youth in custody per day.

"[The facility] has many fewer offenders there today than when it opened 30 years ago," Whelan said.

"We have to maintain a good level of staff, even though the numbers are down."

Investigation to take six weeks

As of Thursday, 23 youth were in custody in the facility, which can accommodate 48 males and 12 females, according to numbers provided by the justice department.

In 2015, 237 youth were admitted.

The investigation is expected to take six weeks to complete.

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca

With files from CBC's Jean Laroche and Rachel Ward, and Michael Tutton of the Canadian Press