About 40 correctional officers at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre staged a sit-in on Tuesday to protest comments made at Queen’s Park earlier in the day.

The comments, made by Correctional Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur, were in response to safety concerns raised after an alleged assault on a guard at EMDC over the weekend.

Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek raised the issue, asking “You have hundreds of ministry staff, dozens of managers and facilities province-wide, how many more people do you need to do your job?”

Meilleur responded “Who is not doing their job when there are drugs going into the facility? Who are not doing their job when there are knives going into the facility? That’s something I want an answer to, an answer to soon.”

Many interpreted the comments as placing blame on correctional officers and as a result about two-thirds of staff on duty at the facility left their posts on Tuesday, prompting a lockdown.

Trish Godin, president of OPSEU Local 108, says “Staff are doing their job. It’s difficult if we don’t have the proper equipment or the proper management.”

Recently overcrowding and understaffing, a fire and assaults on staff and inmates have all drawn attention to the troubles at EMDC.

But Meilleur doesn’t appear to be ready to should any of the responsibility, so EMDC staff are filing a work refusal and demanding the minister retract her statements.

They have the support of OPSEU President Warren ‘Smokey’ Thomas, who released a statement says “That Minister Meilleur would have the gall to accuse correctional officers for safety problems in the facility just proves how out of her depth she is.”

Several correctional officers tell CTV news that if somebody isn't doing their job, it’s likely the management.

They say not only is management ignoring a 12-point plan intended to improve the situation, but they are also ignoring the concerns of the correctional officers, which has at times led to dangerous consequences.

Fires, weekend attack highlights issues

On Tuesday evening, multiple fires reportedly broke out at EMDC, with emergency crews responding and three inmates sent to hospital. No details on the cause were immediately available, but units were reportedly evacuated.

A fire at the facility during a lockdown in April sent an inmate and a manager to hospital. At the time, sources told CTV News the alleged arson was to draw attention to an inmate in medical distress.

On Saturday a guard was allegedly attacked and Godin says “The assault that happened over the weekend could have been prevented if that inmate [involved] had remained in segregation.”

Accused serial killer Loujack Nougues Café was transferred from segregation at EMDC into the general population on May 14th.

Four days later on May 18th, he was involved in a standoff with management, who were forced to arm themselves with pepper spray. Staff asked that he be returned to segregation but management refused.

On May 23rd, a nurse asked that Café be returned to segregation, because he was claiming to be ‘hearing voices.’ Again management refused.

Then on Saturday, May 25th, he allegedly attacked a guard, who was treated in hospital for head wounds.

Meilleur call safety of guards ‘a priority’

In a statement released late Tuesday, Meilleur did not retract her earlier statement, but said she takes the health and safety concerns of correctional officers very seriously.

“In fact, I share the concerns and frustrations of the correctional officers; nobody wants weapons or any other contraband entering the institution, and we need to work together to decrease violence and ensure a positive working relationship among the union, managers, and the Ministry.

To read the full statement visit: http://news.ontario.ca/mcscs/en/2013/05/ministers-statement-on-elgin-middlesex-detention-centre.html