Over the past few weeks, USJE has been strongly advocating for access to COVID-19 vaccinations for all of our front-line members. We have repeatedly spoken with CSC senior management, key Members of Parliament and federal Minister Bill Blair’s office. In addition, we remain a very active participant in CSC’s senior risk management advisory group, comprised of all labour partners.
With this in mind, we prepared the statement below that was sent to the Government of Canada and the Public Health Agency yesterday. We will continue to be a strong voice for USJE members within federal Corrections on this issue and look forward to your continued feedback.
Public Safety Union Calls for Access to Vaccinations for all Front-line Correctional Employees
January 8, 2021 – The Union of Safety and Justice Employees, representing thousands of federal Correctional Service of Canada employees, is urging governments across the country to take the necessary steps to ensure access to vaccinations for all front-line staff as quickly as possible.
USJE members include all federal employees working in rehabilitative, parole, maintenance, food service and related support roles in federal minimum, medium and maximum security penitentiaries, as well as Community Correctional Centres and parole offices across Canada.
While the provision of 1200 doses of the Moderna vaccine to 600 elderly and immuno-compromised offenders with underlying conditions is a step in the right direction, it ignores the fact that COVID-19 outbreaks in federal prisons generally begin as a result of community contagion.
This is when staff members, whether they are Correctional officers (guards), management, food service workers, program, parole or other staff, inadvertently bring COVID-19 into the institution, Community Correctional Centre or community parole office, and expose sometimes hundreds of offenders and other staff.
“The vaccination of an extremely small minority of offenders throughout the country will not prevent, or slow down, federal prison outbreaks,” emphasizes USJE National President Stan Stapleton.
The Correctional Service of Canada has confirmed that positive inmate cases can be detected on admission/transfer to CSC. These cases are immediately medically isolated. Outbreaks generally occur when staff or visitors of offenders in federal prisons, or in the community, unknowingly bring COVID-19 into the workplace.
“By not moving to quickly vaccinate front-line staff who work day in and day out with federal offenders in prisons and in the community, we put thousands of offenders and employees at continued high risk of COVID-19 outbreaks. This further stresses public health agencies and hospitals who ultimately need to treat severely affected COVID-19 patients,” adds Stapleton.
Stapleton explained that Canada’s federal prisons – which house thousands of offenders in often poorly ventilated buildings – are not unlike long term care facilities when it comes to COVID-19.
Irregular adherence to infection controls, a larger than necessary footprint, and older buildings create significant challenges in containing COVID-19 spread once there is even a minor outbreak.
It will take a coordinated effort between the Government of Canada and public health officials from each province and territory to ensure front-line staff, working in all federal penitentiaries and the community, get access to the vaccinations as quickly as possible. USJE adamantly believes it is the most prudent approach and the best use of the vaccine when it comes to protecting all those in federal Corrections, whether they are staff or offenders.
To date, COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in 18 federal Correctional facilities, the highest of which is Stony Mountain with 352 cases.
CSC is adhering to the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines on prioritization, which is to start vaccinations with the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions.
Health care workers in the institutions, who are also eligible to be vaccinated in phase 1, can be vaccinated in their communities now as part of the first phase of vaccinations for all health care workers.
While USJE understands that CSC has a responsibility to vaccinate the elderly and vulnerable in institutions, staff working with federal offenders in penitentiaries and in the community are on the front-lines of COVID-19, facing significant health risks every day.