Prison guards unhappy with handling of COVID-19 outbreak at Mission Institution
VANCOUVER -- The union representing prison guards at federal institutions is voicing concerns about how outbreaks are being handled.
There have been outbreaks at facilities across the country and the Mission Correctional Institution has been the hardest hit.
Sixty-five inmates and 12 staff have tested positive for the virus so far.
Fraser Health announced Thursday that everyone inside the prison will be tested for the virus.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers says while it's glad testing is being done, the move is too little too late.
"Unfortunately now it's just gotten to the point that there's so many. It's almost impossible to separate so now it's about protecting in place,” said Jeff Wilkins, president of UCCO-SACC-CSN.
Wilkins says a big part of the problem is testing rules vary from province to province.
“Some have listed correctional officers as in the group of first responders and are given a priority test and some of have not,” explained Wilkins.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the outbreak in Mission remains a major concern.
“The mission facility outbreak is the second largest one that we are dealing with right now, and it is complex, it involves our federal partners Correctional Services Canada.”
Henry says infection control measures are being enforced.
“Part of it is being notified when people are leaving the facility and making sure we can support them,” she added.”
The union has asked Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair to provide institutions with a sufficient supply of testing kits so all guards are given the same treatment.
All federal penitentiaries have received hand sanitizer and surgical masks for staff.
The masks are worn at all times for staff when physical distancing is not possible.
Cleaning protocols have also been established, but they are different at every prison.
Some facilities have professionals come in, while others have staff and inmates disinfect surfaces.
Physical distancing at the Mission Institution is a major issue, with many communal spaces.
Wilkins says the outbreak there shows a lack of planning.
"There should have been planning done to have areas of the institution that were readily available to quarantine a significant number of inmates away from another."
He's also disappointed guards were not a part of health and safety conversations.
"If there was any failure it was certainly that correctional officers were not included in the planning process early before any onset of the virus," Wilkins told CTV News.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers represents 7,400 correctional officers at 49 federal penitentiaries
Asked for comment on the union's statement, Correctional Services Canada provided a lengthy response, highlighting the enhanced cleaning and other measures it has implemented at its facilities to try to stop the spread of the virus.
"All CSC workers are subject to active screening when reporting to work and are provided masks," the agency said. "CSC has provided guidance on the proper use of personal protective equipment that is meant to provide the greatest degree of protection and prevention possible for staff and inmates. We have dedicated health services and operational staff on site with the equipment needed to monitor and treat inmates, including the necessary personal protective equipment."
Regarding employee testing, CSC said the following:
"If employees get tested, they do so in their communities. CSC reports on confirmed employee cases of COVID-19 that are disclosed to us. As soon as any employee learns of a possible exposure to the virus, exhibits symptoms or is symptomatic, we take immediate precautions. As such, any persons whom our employees may have had contact with after possible exposure would be notified privately."