Local MPPs call alleged harassment at former Windsor jail "unacceptable"
Two local MPPs said the harassment a former corrections officer allegedly faced while working in a former jail is "unacceptable."
Earlier this week CBC News had the story of Nadine Bauer who claims her fellow correctional officers distributed intimate photos of her, left her equipment soaked in urine and called her and her unborn daughter racist names, while she worked as a guard at the Windsor Jail.
- Windsor Jail guard speaks out about alleged abuse, discrimination after 7 years of silence
Rick Nicholls is the MPP for Chatham-Kent-Essex and is also the Official Opposition Community Safety and Correctional Services Critic for the Progressive Conservatives.
"First thoughts that come to my mind is there is no place in any environment for irresponsible comments due to one's ethnicity or comments made of a sexual nature," said Nicholls, who admitted this is not the first time he has heard about situations like this in provincial detention centres.
Nicholls said it's clear to him that correctional officers at the former Windsor Jail "probably didn't have supervisors who were up to speed in the way in which the 21st century now operates."
The MPP also said a lack of updated training and testing to ensure officers understand what the rules are could allow issues at the facility to continue with the next generation of managers unless a change is made, and soon.
"They think 'This is the way I have to act because this is the way my previous bosses acted,'" he explained.
"We don't want people to quit because they're feeling harassed due to race, colour or creed. It has to stop and I think it needs to come from the top"
Nicholls' comments echo the hopes of Bauer and Iosko Assenov, two former jail guards who shared their claims of discrimination and abuse at the two facilities.
Bauer worked at the Windsor Jail between 2002 and 2010 where she alleges the harrassment occurred.
Assenov started working at the South West Detention Centre when it replaced the Windsor Jail in 2014. He said the issues that plagued Bauer were present in the new jail too -- he claims it was a "poison work environment" where racism and bullying were rampant.
Both said inaction from management and "The Code," an unspoken agreement among jail guards that they stand together, allows abuse to continue.
"Corrections is a subculture – nobody wants to rat anybody out, so everything is, for the most part, hidden," Assenov explained. "When somebody goes to management and says 'Hey there is a systematic racial issue here' and it comes back to those officers who are being racist … then it comes back on you as the guy who's the rat. So, it's a form of punishment."
Bauer also said reporting incidents only made things worse for her.
"Coming forward is worse because if there's no discipline or they don't solve the problem, people just become more hateful and more bold."
Lack of management support
Nicholls identified that lack of support from management as another issue plaguing corrections that needs to be dealt with.
"It's very clear the correctional officers don't feel they have the support of their management team, that their management team is out to get them," he said. "You go to ... management with an allegation and does management take it serious or not? In my opinion they don't take it as serious as they need to and should"
Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson, Andrew Morrison, would not comment on either Bauer's or Assenov's case because of privacy concerns.
He did say the government is working on restructuring corrections and enhancing a code of its own as a way to combat the challenges officers like Bauer and Assenov say they experienced — the Code of Conduct and Professionalism, which outlines the behaviour expected.
Marie-France Lalonde, Ontario's Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services also responded to the allegations from former guards by pledging the province is working to build a "modern correctional system."
She pointed to the establishment of a Chief of Investigations for the ministry, who will "investigate allegations of staff misconduct and recommend disciplinary action."
Can't be tolerated
Taras Natyshak is the NDP MPP for Essex. He said something like this can't be tolerated in any workplace, "let alone a public facility under the watch of our provincial government."
Natyshak said it is important to encourage workplaces to support people who feel as though they have been harassed at work and quickly make sure those workers are protected.
"We are in an era where that isn't accepted anymore, and it shouldn't be."