The Union of Canadian Corrections Officers held a rally to bring public awareness to the issues they face with Canada’s changing laws on Friday at noon, at the Pacific Region headquarters on Gladys Avenue.
“We have to let Canadians know about the difficulties we face,” UCCO national president Pierre Mallette told a crowd of about 60 members.
He was standing in front of a bus that had taken him across Canada, after he began a nationwide tour at Nova Institution in Nova Scotia five weeks earlier. “Our security is yours too,” was painted on the bus, and that is the general message the union wanted to give the public.
The Corrections Officers had marched in front of the regional administrative building blowing horns and waving union banners.
Pacific Region president Gord Robertson explained Corrections staff are becoming impatient with a federal government that is passing new laws designed to get tough on crime, while at the same time closing institutions – two in Ontario and one in Quebec.
“They’re reducing beds but increasing the number of inmates,” he said.
He said the public also needs to be aware that Corrections officers face increasingly complex and dangerous situations in prisons, with more inmates having gang affiliations. A Chilliwack officer recently had her face slashed by an inmate with a homemade knife while working at Kent in Agassiz. The attack severed an artery, and caused a life-threatening injury.
“That’s a real example of what we’re facing,” said Robertson.
He said Corrections officers are a hidden branch of law enforcement, and need to remind the public and the government that “we are here.”
The UCCO has been negotiating a new collective agreement for two and a half years. He said health and safety, shift scheduling and salary are among the issues.
He called Abbotsford a “Corrections town,” and noted that of the 1,150 union members in the Pacific Region, 460 work in Abbotsford. There is Fraser Valley Institution for Women, Pacific Institution and Matsqui Institution. Many employees employees of Ferndale and Mission Institution, and Kent in Agassiz also live in the community.
He believed the rally was a success.
“It makes them aware that we’re here, and that if we have to, we’ll get loud.”