Union applauds firing of Edmonton correctional officers amid harassment investigation

Edmonton Journal, Jan 12 2018

The firing of four correctional officers — including two managers — shows Correctional Service Canada is finally taking bullying, abuse of power and harassment at Edmonton’s maximum security prison seriously, says the head of a union representing prison employees.

“Over the years, you always get employees that are released because of excessive use of force or inappropriate behaviour,” Stan Stapleton, who worked at Edmonton Institution for two decades and is now national president of the Union of Safety and Justice Employees, said Thursday.

“But nothing to this extent. (It’s) by far the biggest. To my knowledge it’s the largest release of employees for different abuses that have happened — certainly in my career.”

On Tuesday, Correctional Service Canada said two correctional officers and two managers — who were among a number of staff suspended last September — had been fired as part of an investigation into harassment, intimidation and bullying.

More disciplinary hearings are pending, and the Edmonton Police Service is conducting a separate investigation into allegations of criminal activity.

The correctional service hired external investigations in September to look into bullying and harassment allegations, which staff and inmates made to Commissioner of Corrections Don Head.

Stapleton, a former correctional officer, last worked at the prison in 2006. His union represents parole officers, program officers, tradespeople, clerical staff and food services staff and tradespeople.

In an op-ed for Postmedia, Stapleton cited an inmate “fight club” and claims female staff were threatened by having high-risk male offenders “unleashed” on them.

“Women have been abused, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed,” he said. “They are not treated the same as male officers.”

It’s significant that people in management positions have been fired, said Stapleton, because correctional managers are in charge of the institution after hours and on weekends and “have a direct responsibility to ensure that this type of thing didn’t happen, and if it happened to report it.”

“And yet, as it turns out, at least two of them were an integral part of allowing the type of behaviour that was happening to continue.”

Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Winnipeg, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said he would not comment on the details of the investigation.

“But it is important to note that Commissioner Head acted in a very strong and proactive way to make the point that the type of behaviour that’s being complained of is simply unacceptable,” he said.

On Monday, Correctional Service Canada also appointed France Gratton as new regional deputy commissioner for the Prairie region. Gary Sears, who previously served as spokesperson for the institution, was named the new warden.

Stapleton said it’s important prison leadership take complaints seriously. Previous managers would often require complaints in writing, which kept some employees from coming forward.

“When people come forward to managers and … managers tell that person, ‘We’re not going to do anything unless you put it in writing,’ those people many times will not put it in writing because they fear retaliation,” he said.

“Managers now are finding themselves in a position where they really have to deal with it, and they can’t put it on the corner of the desk.”