Jail guards want COVID-19 screening at Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre

Corrections officers at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre refused to report to work on Monday over fears of COVID-19 in their own ranks.

Guards refused to work Monday prompting temporary lockdown

The Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre was put into lockdown after guards refused to report to work Monday. The guards are demanding active COVID-19 screening for all employees entering the facility.

Corrections officers at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre refused to report to work on Monday over fears of COVID-19 in their own ranks.

While no guards or inmates at the facility have tested positive so far, a prisoner was admitted to Toronto South Detention Centre last week who tested positive.

The guards are demanding active screening of their members for COVID-19 before each shift in order to prevent an outbreak of the virus.

"Active screening would be having some individual that is at the front door actively asking the questions that are fairly common now out in the public. So asking whether they are having [a] fever, new cough [or] difficulty breathing. As well as have they traveled outside of Canada in the last 14 days. Also to take a temperature to check for fever," said Ryan Graham, the acting co-chair for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union health and safety committee.

Ontario's Ministry of the Solicitor General confirmed some guards refused to work and a lockdown took place Monday.

"When corrections staff exercise their right to refuse work, the ministry has protocols to maintain operations," said a spokesperson. 

The lockdown was lifted by 11:30 a.m. on Monday according to the ministry.

Prisoners inside the facility are protesting what they call a lack of communication about what's going on at the centre with regards to both the labour strike and concerns about the virus.

"Dorm three and four are on a hunger strike right now," says Mitch Jocko, a prisoner at the OCDC who spoke to CBC on the phone.

"I'm pretty sure we're in it for the long haul."

Jocko said breakfast was an hour late on Monday morning due to the labour issues and prisoners refused to eat lunch.

OPSEU doesn't know if the labour action will continue.

The shortage of guards is also affecting people held at the facility who are seeking bail in a system that is already facing issues due to COVID-19. Some inmates were forced to miss hearings due to the lockdown according to a prison rights activist.

"I've heard from people who have been denied bail, even with very, very robust bail plans," says Souheil Benslimane the lead coordinator for the Jail Assistance and Information Line.

He added a long-term lockdown can have dire psychological effects on prisoners.

"People living with mental health illnesses, this is going to exacerbate them," Benslimane said. 

with files from CBC's Stu Mills and Jorge Barrera

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