Assault on guard a symptom of overcrowded prisons | National Union of Public and General Employees

Assault on guard a symptom of overcrowded prisons

Explosive tensions exist at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in B.C. where 650 inmates are packed into facilities meant to house a maximum of 300 prisoners.

Vancouver (3 Dec. 2010) - The B.C. Government and General Employees' Union (BCGEU/NUPGE) says an investigation of a Nov. 16 assault on a guard at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam remains incomplete and is symptomatic of an explosive situation at the institution.

A correctional officer - alone in a living unit with 60 inmates - was punched and kicked several times by a prisoner. Other officers arrived quickly to help but the officer was knocked semi-unconscious and suffered a concussion and other injuries. He could be off work for up to eight weeks.

"The overcrowding problem at North Fraser Pretrial Centre is serious and has made the jail very tense," says Dean Purdy, chair of BCGEU's correctional and sheriff services component.

"North Fraser Pretrial Centre was originally built for 300 inmates but now averages approximately 650 inmates who are all double-bunked. There have been 30 assaults at North Fraser since 2009."

Purdy says WorkSafeBC should have been notified following the most recent assault but nothing was done by authorities, raising serious questions about procedures being followed at North Fraser.

According to the Workers Compensation Act an employer must call WorkSafeBC when there has been an accident that resulted in a serious injury. On receiving such a report WorkSafeBC must investigate the matter.

Meanwhile, BCGEU members at the jail are being reminded to report all incidents to their employer, their union and their workplace occupational health and safety committee.

Purdy says a subsequent less serious assault also happened on Nov. 27, providing yet another indication of problems with violence at the facility.

BCGEU is reminding members of their right to refuse unsafe work under Section 3.12 of the province's Occupational Health and Safety (OS&C) regulations.

Specifically, officers are being advised of the following procedures in instances where they or others could face harm on the job:

  • Talk to the supervisor or employer.
  • The supervisor must investigate the hazard and either address it or make a judgment to the contrary.
  • If employees still believe the work is dangerous, they have a right to continue to refuse and the supervisor is required to continue the investigation in the presence of the worker and a representative from tfe OH&S committee, a union designate or a co-worker selected by the employee.
  • If the hazard remains unfixed and the employee still considers the work to be unsafe, he or she may continue to refuse and the employer must contact the WCB.
  • A WCB officer must investigate without delay and issue whatever orders are considered necessary to address the problem.
  • An employee may be reassigned to alternate work, at no loss in pay, while waiting for the WCB decision.
  • Employees refusing dangerous work are instructed to always advise their shop steward of the situation.

The union emphasizes that Section 3.13 stipulates that a worker cannot be fired or disciplined for refusing unsafe work. Any indication of retribution by the employer should be reported to the shop steward

"The violence at North Fraser is an example of the problems we are facing throughout the system," says Purdy. "If something is not done, an officer will die. That must not happen."


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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