Québec RVPs join MPs on visit to Port-Cartier Institution

On September 1, 2022, Regional Vice-Presidents Patrick Ménard and Andréanne Samson accompanied the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, Pam Damoff, and the Vice-Chair of the Standing Committee on Public Safety, Bloc Québécois MP Kristina Michaud, on a tour of the Port-Cartier Institution. The MP for Manicouagan, Marilène Gill, was represented by her bureau chief.

Jérôme Vigneault, the Acting Director, welcomed the MPs for a three-hour tour during which they saw most of the infrastructure at Port-Cartier. Mr. Vigneault emphasized that, “Port-Cartier is made up of men and women who give enormously of themselves. This isn’t just a sign along the highway.”

Ms. Damoff insisted on speaking French with everyone. Since she was named to the position of Parliamentary Secretary, Ms. Damoff has been gradually familiarizing herself with penal institutions across Canada. This visit was an opportunity for her to see what makes Port-Cartier stand out from other institutions. Ms. Damoff mentioned the negative effects of the former Harper government’s policies on prison infrastructures and seemed to uncover at Port-Cartier vestiges of a vision of imprisonment as an opportunity for rehabilitation that escaped the Conservatives’ reforms.

The two MPs were able to speak directly with representatives of all sections of the penitentiary and to develop a clear idea of the duties of Correctional Services employees.

The visit began in the Native centre, where prisoners from First Nations can take advantage of therapies adapted to their own culture. Elder Gary McFarland and liaison officer Guylaine Grenier greeted the visitors with a quick tobacco ceremony to “unite and honor our intentions to our words” before they took their places around a representation of a traditional medicine wheel and talked about the search for the healing path method. Port-Cartier has 38 Native inmates. Eight of them are Inuit, and 25 of them are actively participating in seeking their path, according to Ms. Grenier.

RVP Ménard, in reply to a question from Pam Damoff to Director Vigneault on inmates’ ID documents after their release, suggested that the cards issued by Correctional Services during detention be promoted to the status of legal identity documents.

The visit continued with a tour of the infirmary and the dry cells. The procedure for the use of these cells was explained to Ms. Damoff, who evoked a case of abuse that occurred in Nova Scotia, and in which the government of Canada had been found liable in the accompanying suit.

The MPs met with a social programs officer (SPO) and her manager, and learned more about the workload of UIS/ADR. The Bloc MP showed a particular interest during this session for the campaign supported by USJE concerning presumptive injuries. Ms. Michaud herself brought the subject up with our members on site.

Both parliamentarians were very interested in a visit to the penitentiary kitchen, where inmates work. They were welcomed by the head of dietary services, Manon Beaudin, who highlighted how valuable culinary training is for inmates reintegrating society. Ms. Beaudin works where her own father worked before her. She said that she is passionate about her work and proud to manage a kitchen that uses a minimum of frozen products, familiarly known as “cook chill”, and for which Madame Damoff expressed obvious disgust.

RVPs Samson and Ménard took the opportunity to speak to kitchen staff and tell them about the campaign supported by USJE regarding training for dietary services officers. A discussion on security measures indicated that there is still work to do concerning security in prison kitchens. The RVPs had a chance to extend the discussion with the two MPs over a meal in the closest restaurant. Numerous subjects that could not be touched on during the tour were discussed in this more private setting, which was more suitable for direct dialog. The importance of the work of CSC members and the main union campaigns under way (employee mental health / workplace accidents / presumptive injuries and workload) were discussed in depth with the two MPs. Their interest was palpable.