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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Nova Scotia jail guards to be armed but taser-less when inmates move

June 12, 2008

Justice Minister Cecil Clarke says correctional officers will be armed if they move inmates outside of jails, but not with Tasers just yet.

On Monday, the Labour Department’s occupational health and safety committee ordered that jail guards on outside escorts and hospital supervision of inmates be armed with pepper spray and/or batons and/or Tasers.

Mr. Clarke said his department will comply with the order, but only pepper spray and batons will be available until the results are known of a Justice Department study on the use of stun guns in the province. “Until that report is complete there will be no authorization of Tasers,” the justice minister said Thursday after a cabinet meeting in Bible Hill.

Correctional officers have been complaining they have not been provided with enough training and equipment to do their jobs. The issue became front page news in April when Jermaine Carvery, who had been on remand for numerous charges, including attempted murder and hostage-taking, slipped out of his leg shackles and escaped during a transfer to hospital.

The guards who were moving the prisoner were unarmed and inexperienced. The minister said he is “very pleased” that Mr. Carvery was recaptured last week in Niagara Falls, Ont. “I believe that this is something that the public can stand confident that at least the person is where he needs to be,” he said.

Since the escape, guards have refused to do transfers without weapons.

Mr. Clarke said sheriffs will continue to conduct the transfers until the Justice Department makes its response to the order, due on June 24. That’s when the province has to put an implementation plan in place.

The health and safety committee says Nova Scotia is the only province where correctional staff doesn’t have some type of intermediate weapon.

One correctional officer at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth said he and other guards remain sceptical about the Justice Department adhering to the latest compliance order “because nothing’s been implemented yet.”

“Because of the relationship with the employer over the years it’s very untrusting,” the guard, who asked not to be named, said. “Until they actually see it get implemented then they’ll believe it — when we actually have the training and the tools to do our job properly.”

Guards in this province have pepper spray, batons and stun guns available inside the jails but are expected to go out into the community with just a mobile phone and bullet-proof vest. “Brinks guards who protect money have firearms, but yet our employer sees that protecting human life does not carry the same value,” the guard wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle Herald Thursday.

The guard who spoke to this newspaper also alleges that during past occupational health and safety meetings, before the latest compliance orders were issued, their employer had told staff that if they were being attacked during an outside escort by an offender to use a chair, wheelchair or clipboard to defend themselves. “Staff were enraged for the lack of caring from the employer for staff safety,” the guard said.

The training modules reviewed by a Labour Department investigating officer state that escalating situations of violence may require correctional staff to improvise with the use of flashlights, clipboards or chairs, the June 9 occupational health and safety report said.

When asked whether Mr. Carvery’s escape could have been prevented had guards been carrying some type of weapons, the guard said he believes this, combined with adequate training, could have made a difference. “These people (the two guards) were all new with no training,” he said. “It’s sort of like if you’re an electrician and start hooking up wires with no training, someone’s going to get electrocuted.”

Liberal MLA Michel Samson said he can’t believe it took a Labour Department order for Mr. Clarke “to show some common sense.” He said it’s not reasonable for guards to have to shed their weapons on outside escorts.

NDP MLA Bill Estabrooks questioned what took the minister so long. “The front-line workers are the ones that should have been listened to all along,” he said.

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