Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre officers refuse to work after key leaves jail

A startling revelation by a former inmate who says he smuggled a jail key out of the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre triggered a work refusal Wednesday by correctional officers.

“Correctional officers at EMDC initiated a work refusal in relation to media reports that a key from the institution had been removed from the institution by a former inmate,” Brent Ross, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said in a statement.

The work refusal ended when investigators from the Ministry of Labour determined staff at the Exeter Road facility didn’t have any grounds to refuse work, Ross said.

“The ministry cannot discuss security-related matters, but we can confirm that the institution was, and remains, secure.”

A London lawyer who played a pivotal role in media reports about the key says he can understand why correctional officers took the job action.

“I can understand anxieties arising, because it is a high-stress environment. I guess I sympathize with everybody that has to set foot inside those doors every day,” said Kevin Egan, who represents hundreds of inmates in a civil action against the province over conditions at EMDC, where 13 inmates have died since 2009.

Egan revealed this week that a former inmate came to his office a few months ago with a key he said came from the jail.

The jail’s security manager retrieved the key from Egan last week. Neither he nor the ministry would confirm the key came from the jail, but an employee who viewed a photo of the key said it is “100 per cent a jail key.”

Security at the jail is under the spotlight after seven male inmates overdosed on the same day last week. Correctional officers say there are gaps in the system that allow inmates to smuggle drugs into the jail.

Officials from the Ontario Public Service Employees Union couldn’t be reached for comment. The union represents jail employees.

It’s not known if the work refusal led to a lockdown at the jail when inmates are not allowed on the ranges and confined to cells. Lockdowns in the past have increased tensions between inmates and staff because inmates resent the loss of privileges.

“It wouldn’t automatically be a lockdown,” Egan said.

File photo

He said jail workers appear to be trying to make a point about conditions at EMDC.

“I do think that these people have a very difficult job to do. We all need to make points to highlight the serious problems (at EMDC).”

Egan won’t say how the inmate said he got the key other than it was on a lark.

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