Family of Jason Bird grieving following his death at Sask. prison

A senior Union of Canadian Correctional Officers member says the deadly riot may have been triggered by a simmering dispute over food portions.

Saskatchewan Penitentiary had simmering dispute over food, says union officer

Holly Lafond called her older brother, Jason Bird, a warrior and someone who had a heart of gold beneath his tough exterior. (Holly Lynn/Facebook)

Holly Lynn Lafond says underneath his tough exterior, her older brother Jason Leonard Bird was a man who had a heart of gold. 

He was taken too young.- Holly Lynn Lafond

Bird was stabbed to death in a prison riot on Wednesday at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary. It is estimated up to 200 inmates took part in the riot. 

Two other inmates were taken to hospital in serious condition.

Lafond expressed her grief on Facebook, calling her brother a warrior and a family man.

"My heart hurts, aches for the loss of my brother but it hurts even more for my mom," Lafond wrote on Facebook. "No mother should ever have to bury her children."

Bird, 43, was one of six siblings and the third to die.

Lafond vowed to fight for justice in holding those involved in Bird's death accountable. 

"He was taken too young," Lafond wrote. 

Bird was serving two years and seven months for breaking and entering and related offences. 

Riot may have been triggered over food portions

A senior union officer says the deadly riot may have been triggered by a simmering dispute over food portions. 

James Bloomfield, regional president with the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said there was trouble brewing in the kitchen in the days leading up to the riot.

A confrontation began around 1 p.m. CST Wednesday, following lunch, when inmates would normally be heading back to their cells.

We've seen trends going up in terms of assaults, use of pepper spray, use-of-force incidents, lockdowns.- Howard Sapers

"However, the inmates, at that point, refused to lock up," said Bloomfield. The number of inmates refusing to lock up ranged from 185 to 200, he said.

Shots were fired by guards as they took control of the area, sending five to hospital. The injuries are not considered life-threatening.

Canteen concerns 

John Hutton, executive director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, which runs a reintegration program for inmates at provincial and federal facilities, said he is aware of concerns about changes to the way the canteen operates at prisons in his province.

"Apparently there's been some changes in the way the canteen is being administered for all of western Canada, so that would include [Saskatchewan Penitentiary] as well."

He said the food services for the canteen have been privatized and "one of the concerns is that the prices have gone up in the canteen and there may be some issues around availability."

He said inmates sometimes purchase canteen food to supplement their meals.

Hutton added that food could be a major factor influencing the dynamic inside a jail or prison: "It's very important to have good and adequate food because if you don't, people can get restless. That can certainly cause problems."

Prison ombudsman investigating

Prison watchdog Howard Sapers said in his experience the issue is likely bigger than food.

"There's been a lot of changes around food in Canadian penitentiaries and so it's not just that there wasn't enough food or just that the food wasn't very appetizing, although both of those things may be true — there's usually a lot more behind it," Sapers told CBC Radio's Morning Edition.

Sapers said while double bunking and use of segregation is down in federal prisons, other things have the institutions in flux. 

"We've seen trends going up in terms of assaults, use of pepper spray, use-of-force incidents, lockdowns. [Prince Albert] is not unique in that regard," Sapers said. 

Staff from Sapers' office are on their way to Prince Albert today to further investigate the cause of the riot.

With files from CBC Radio's Morning Edition, Dan Zakreski