Flanked by snow-covered trees in Maple Ridge, dozens of people braved the latest blast of winter weather to rally outside Fraser Valley Regional Correction Centre, supporting four prison guards charged with assault.

The rally comes more than a year after the four allegedly attacked an inmate with mental health issues at the provincial correctional centre.

In a notice posted on the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union website – the union representing BC Corrections staff – members were invited to show solidarity with the guards.

Union Vice-President Dean Purdy said six staff members were fired after the incident. As the case is before the courts and in arbitration, Purdy said he could not comment on the alleged assault.

The Crown charged Matthew Black, Luke Poelzer, Ryan Saunders and Neil Stirton in November 2018 for assault causing bodily harm against 37-year-old Anthanios-Tom Mavros. None of the charges have been proven in court.

Mavros was incarcerated at the time of the assault – serving a 284-day sentence after pleading guilty to a July 2017 robbery.

Purdy confirmed they were rallying “to support our members who have been reprimanded and are off on suspension pending termination”.

He added the rally was also to support the province’s correctional staff facing increased violence in the workplace.

“The violence has risen over the last five years, and it continues to go up,” he told CTV News.

A banner hanging from a lone tent depicted a single corrections officer surrounded by 15 inmates in 2001; in the adjacent panel, the same guard is surrounded by nearly 50 prisoners in 2016.

Purdy said corrections staff are forced to deal with more inmates with gang affiliations, as well as prisoners with mental health issues.

“We’re really becoming the default mental health facilities in this province, and that’s wrong,” said Purdy.

 “We want something to be done; we want changes to the system.”

When asked what changes he wanted to see, Purdy suggested correctional officers should not work directly in living units where they’re more exposed to violence.

He argued many corrections officers in the province were dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues themselves.

“The job of a correctional officer is very difficult,” Purdy said. “They don’t get a break from what they face when they walk in through these gates.”