The Liberal government’s ongoing refusal to put metal detectors in Ontario’s probation and parole offices is putting the health and safety of the province’s probation and parole officers at serious risk, according to the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).
The Ministry of Labour is currently investigating two incidents where clients were carrying dangerous weapons when attending the probation and parole office in Newmarket, Ont. One client brandished a knife, while another was in possession of brass knuckles that had broken metal keys welded onto the top and a hypodermic needle.
“I first raised this issue with the employer and MOL over 12 years ago,” said Scott McIntyre, the probation and parole provincial health and safety worker representative. “Over that time, we’ve filed many MOL complaints and we’ve worked hard to get the employer to agree to these potentially life-saving measures. But the employer refuses to consider them.”
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services (MCSCS) maintains that “passive and administrative” controls are sufficient. These include putting up signs in waiting areas warning that weapons are prohibited; installing lockers where clients are asked to place their belongings; and creating a single secure interview room per office, wherein a glass window separates clients from officers, according to OPSEU.
“The various compliance plans that the employer has put forward over the years, including so-called passive and administrative controls and using discretion, have failed,” McIntyre said. “Without a metal detector in place, it’s anyone’s guess whether a client comes into the office armed.”
Concerns over safety have multiplied in recent years. Provincial Auditor General Bonny Lysyk warned in her 2014 Annual Report that over the last decade, the rate at which high- and very high-risk offenders reoffend has actually increased and is much higher than the overall average rate.
“There are too many clients and not enough probation and parole officers to supervise them,” McIntyre said. “This is especially problematic when you consider that offenders are becoming more violent and more complex to supervise. We are also seeing a spike in the number of offenders with mental health issues.”
OPSEU, which represents some 900 probation and parole officers and some 250 support staff in the province, has been working closely with probation officers and MOL investigators to persuade MCSCS to install metal detectors.