Minister Naqvi calls for an end to segregation in shower cells
Published Monday, March 28, 2016 5:57PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, April 2, 2016 9:27AM EDT
Ontario's Corrections Minister has called for a provincial ban on bunking in shower cells after it was discovered the practice was being used at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.
Last month a union representative raised the red flag after a tour of the facility revealed men were sleeping on mattresses on the floor of two showers in the jail's segregation unit.
At the time Minister Yasir Naqvi denied the practice was happening. He told CFRA580 in an emailed statement on February 9, 2016 that "statements...with regard to inmates sleeping in showers and meeting rooms are completely inaccurate."
This weekend, nearly two months later, he called the practice "absolutely unacceptable and appalling." Naqvi said that as soon as he found out the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre was "on occasion" double bunking inmates in shower cells he put a stop to the practice once and for all.
"We do not control the number of people who come into our core and custody but it is our obligation to look after them," he said.
Naqvi has tasked his deputy minister with leading a task force on the issue. The Minister said the task force will answer burning questions such as how many inmates were put in that situation and for how long. The review, however, will also look at the larger issue of overcrowding in Ontario jails.
"I have asked him to give me an action plan for the near term and long term on how to deal with overcrowding at the OCDC," Naqvi said.
But it's not just double and triple bunking that critics have a problem with. Lawyers and union representatives said they have repeatedly raised concerns about food quality, staffing shortages and access to showers and yard time.
Anne-Marie McElroy said her clients have gone weeks without yard time and up to 8 days without access to the shower.
"It makes for a very volatile situation," she said. "A lot of the time, it makes it more likely that there will be violence and it just makes for a much more difficult experience."
Smokey Thomas, the President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union said the government should launch a staffing audit immediately.
“The population at the detention centre has doubled in the last ten years but the staffing level has not kept pace with that,” he said.
The provincial government has committed to hiring 2,000 new corrections officers over the next three years. 32 new officers have been hired at the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre since 2013, with another 12 expected to join in mid-May. The Minister's office said another 40 are currently being recruited.