Dozens of correctional officers at Manitoba's Stony Mountain Institution gave their blood — and a piece of their minds — Monday in Winnipeg, using a group blood donation to highlight issues affecting federal prison guards in Canada ahead of the upcoming election.
James Bloomfield, Prairies regional president for federal correctional officers union UCCO-SACC-CSN, said prison guards like himself are well-acquainted with the need for blood donations, given their experience responding to violent incidents.
Bloomfield said the union for federal prison guards doesn't support a specific political party in the 2019 election.
However, he said correctional officers are worried about recent changes to administrative segregation in Canadian prisons, a practice more commonly known as solitary confinement. In response to court rulings, the Liberal government this year passed a bill to reform administrative segregation in favour of new "structured intervention units."
According to Bloomfield, those changes won't help correctional officers manage behavioural issues among inmates.
"We are now more susceptible to assaults than we have ever been before," he said. "Repercussions for the inmates are very little in these situations."
The union also pushed its stance against needle exchange programs for injection drug users in federal prisons.
"It's supposed to be to avoid transmission of diseases," said Bloomfield. "However, the first time that we had this in our institution — everybody, common sense will tell you that inmate is going to share that needle, and that's exactly what we found happened."
Bloomfield wants federal political leaders to recognize correctional officers as first responders, and to be included in legislation that affects those emergency workers.
"We want to ensure that as we go forward, things such as the death benefits for first responders, we need to be included in that federally. And that's what we'd like to see from the political parties at this point, is to understand that our workplace is very dangerous, our workplace is very unique, and as a group, we need to be supported by both our government, as well as our employer, through this process of change."
Justin Kelsch, the union's local president for Stony Mountain, said he doesn't feel like Ottawa prioritizes correctional officers' safety.
"Our institution in Manitoba here had six (prisoner) murders in two years... Our safety should be topmost priority, and we don't see any of the parties really coming out and saying that we're going to give to officers," he said.
"We need more officers in the institutions, they're not hiring more officers. And the removal of (administrative) segregation is just going to make our institutions a lot more dangerous."
Solomon Israel is the full-time cannabis reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press and its national cannabis news website, TheLeafNews.com. He covers the social, legal, medical and scientific aspects of marijuana legalization in Manitoba and the rest of Canada.