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Corrections officers in B.C. rally for safety amid surge in assaults by inmates

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Dozens of corrections officers marched in Abbotsford Thursday to call attention to worsening working conditions and their employer's alleged failure to adequately address the issue.

Speaking to reporters at the rally outside the Correctional Service of Canada's regional headquarters on Gladys Avenue in Abbotsford, John Randle – regional president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers for the CSC's Pacific region – explained the group's concerns.

"We're here today because across the country we've seen violent assaults on correctional officers rise to numbers that in my career – I've been a correctional officer for 15 years – we've never seen before," Randle said.

He said more than 700 officers were assaulted last year.

"That's double what we've seen in previous years," he said, noting that – as regional president – he's notified whenever incidents occur in the Pacific region.

"It's happening too much. It's almost daily we're getting the calls that someone's been assaulted, whether that be physically, spit on, feces thrown in their faces. We deal with all that, and we're losing correctional officers because of it. People are tired because our employer is not supporting us."

Asked to elaborate on the lack of support he sees, Randle shared some specific examples, but he also highlighted what he sees as the CSC's general attitude right now.

He characterized the employer as "afraid" of lawsuits and bad publicity.

"They put the needs of the inmates first, over their staff," he said. "That's a problem for us. It's our job as corrections officers for the care, custody and control of inmates, to keep them safe and rehabilitate them. It's our employer's job to keep us safe."

Specifically, he said the CSC has stopped using "disciplinary segregation," which he said is different from "administrative segregation" – the type of solitary confinement that was subject to class action lawsuits and abolished in 2019. 

Randle also noted that drone deliveries of drugs and weapons have contributed to the increase in violence, saying it's creating "a dangerous black market" inside federal prisons.

"The first thing that they need to do is get us the tools we need," he said. "There is technology out there to stop drones. We need it. We need it now. It can't happen, you know, next month, next year. We need it today."

For its part, the CSC issued a statement Thursday in which it described the safety and well-being of staff as "of paramount importance."

"We are, and will continue, to work with our staff and union partners to ensure safe work environments," the statement reads, in part.

"These are issues that have our ongoing attention, vigilance and action, as we all work towards the same goal."

The agency also touted its "multi-prong approach" to mitigating the risks of contraband, which includes searches, technology, "intelligence investigations" and "tools such as ion scanners and detector dogs."

"Several measures are in place to protect the safety and security of staff. This includes the appropriate security placement of offenders, an engagement and intervention model, drug detection and identification tools and ongoing staff training," the statement reads. "Front-line correctional officers are qualified to use, and are provided with, the necessary security equipment to ensure their safety and security in institutions, including protective vests, self-defence tools, and restraint equipment." 

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