No cells, not enough staff, mould; MOL investigating OPP Pelee Island detachment
Lack of detention cells, staffing levels and mould issues part of the investigation
The Ministry of Labour is investigating multiple issues with the Pelee Island Ontario Provincial Police Detachment, brought forward by the OPP's joint health and safety committee.
The December, 2018 complaint stated multiple health and safety concerns were not being addressed by the employer — the OPP. Essex County OPP Insp. Glenn Miller recently met with the Ministry of Labour to review the concerns. Some of the issues were also part of a 2014 ministry investigation.
"The purpose of that review was pertaining to the lack of detention cells and the availability of marine and air assets in order to support our officers when they're on the island," Miller said.
No detention cells on Pelee Island
In November 2014, the Ministry of Labour conducted a field visit prompted by the Essex County OPP joint occupational health and safety committee.
Officers on the island use a two-storey home — owned by the township and rented by the Ontario government. The town offices are on the lower level. Upstairs is a small office and living quarters for officers who have to stay on the island to work.
"Not all OPP detachments are required to have cells and this particular case on Pelee Island, the prisoners are transported to the nearest detachment that does have a cell for purposes of holding," Miller said.
There are marine and air assets available from the water and mainland to transport any detained people to a cell on the mainland. As of 2019, that hasn't changed.
"There are challenges at times certainly, in order to bring those individuals that would be required to be detained and brought back to the island," said Miller.
In the majority of cases he said the OPP can facilitate that, and that officers have procedures in place for the safety of both the individuals and the officers.
"When someone is placed under arrest on the island, and if a marine unit is not on the island at the time, then they have to be actioned in order to get there and that unfortunately does require a little bit of time depending on where they are," Miller said.
Weather and location of boats on the water can mean longer wait times; therefore, people under arrest are kept in the police cruisers.
"They're contained — they're safe," said Miller. "Our officers are safe, but again it takes a period of time, so it's not that there isn't a place for the prisoners to go. The prisoners go within the confines of the cruiser that is appropriate for transporting prisioners."
Number of officers on the island
The OPP would not provide how many officers are on the island at one time — due to "operational reasons" — but say there is always enough for adequate and effective policing to take place. Part of the 2014 investigation looked into if the employer takes every precaution reasonable for the protection of workers.
"Our officers do a very good job in ensuring the various safety protocols based on their training and based on our operational procedures," Miller said.
The island gets more calls on the weekends, that's when there would be more officers on the island and more boats nearby.
"Having the exact right number of people, that's kind of hard, because we just have to deal with each type of situation as it comes up," he said.
OPP are available 24 hours a day, through air and water assets. During the winter, officers do not stay on the island, but are available to make it there by plane. Sometimes they conduct business over the phone and will have officers go to the island to conduct interviews and investigate.
"We don't deal with a high volume of calls. We do not deal with a high volume of arrests on Pelee," Miller said. "I'm not saying that they don't take place, certainly when they're on the mainland they're a lot easier to do that."
Mould in the Pelee Island Detachment
A recent complaint was mould found in the two-storey home the OPP uses on the island. Miller said people were immediately sent out to test the mould. The report said "it is suitable for occupancy." Even so, they plan to test again in May.
"During that particular time if our officers were required to go there we didn't have them stay at that particular location," he said.
2014 Investigation findings
There were multiple orders issues to the OPP which were complied with. These include:
- Posting the Occupational Health and Safety Act in the workplace
- Posting workplace violence and harassment policies
- Conducting a risk assessment for violence in the workplace
- Ensuring equipment, material, and protective devices are maintained in good condition
The Ministry of Labour re-opened the investigation in November 2015 regarding the risk assessment. In December 2015 there was a field visit and more issues were ordered, including:
- Ensuring violence program includes measures and procedures to control the risks identified in the assessment
- Providing a compliance plan related to the program
- Taking every precaution reasonable for the protection of workers
The OPP appealed these orders in January 2016 to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
In February 2016 the matter was settled by the parties involved.