Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2017
Source: Kingston Whig-Standard (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Sun Media
Author: Ian MacAlpine
Page: A1


Correctional officers union boss reflects on issues, progress in

Jason Godin, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional
Officers, has overseen many changes in the union that represents more
than 7,400 correctional service officers across Canada at federal
institutions, including approximately 1,000 in the Kingston area.

Currently halfway through a third mandate as national president,
Kingston-based Godin sat down with the Whig-Standard at the union
offices in Kingston's west end to discuss issues for his members,
which included the increasing amount of fentanyl coming into the
institutions, recognizing correctional officers as first responders,
post-traumatic stress disorder issues, the challenges with the
beleaguered Phoenix pay system, and the settlement of a union contract
that makes them the highest paid correctional officers in North America.

Here is an edited version of his responses during a
question-and-answer session earlier this month.

The Whig-Standard: "The fentanyl drug became a problematic issue in 
Canadian society in 2017 and it got into some Canadian prisons as well. 
What does the UCCO think of that?"

Jason Godin: "It continues to be a real safety issue for us. Like other 
first responders on the street, we're experiencing fentanyl entering our 
facilities. We've been able to secure some safety measures, including 
naloxone for our members to have and also inmates, but that continues to 
be a huge problem. We can't seem to get ahead of it and it's not going 
away soon. Inmates are finding new ways of bringing contraband in, 
including fentanyl. We've made some safety measures, there's hoods 
coming now to do proper searches for our protection, we're looking for 
different technologies to combat drones, but this continues to be one of 
the most challenging pieces that we're going to have in the future."

WS: "Mental health issues for your members, what has the union done
for them?"

JG: "We're quite pleased with the progress we've made. We've been
lobbying collectively with some of our provincial counterparts. In
fact, we launched a campaign called Working on the Edge, where we've
now seen most of the provincial jurisdictions moving towards
presumptive legislation for PTSD which recognizes correctional
officers [as first responders] and this is a major breakthrough. For
years we've never been in the category of first responder, even though
we're the people doing all three jobs behind the walls [police,
paramedics and firefighters]. The biggest piece we need to move on is
the funding from the federal government. There's 15 recommendations
that came out of the Public Safety Committee, which speaks to a
national treatment centre for first responders. We believe all the
consultations are done, the numbers are there, correctional officers
are at over 30 per cent PTSD rates, now it's time for the feds to pony
up and let's get some programs going."

WS: "How have issues with the Phoenix pay system affected your

JG: "The problem with Phoenix is it continues to plague the people who
have had problems with it. It continues to be a huge problem for us
and for other departments as well. It's a complete and utter disaster,
quite frankly. Phoenix needs to go and this will be an area we'll be
focusing on in the new year, to tell the government, like other unions
did, we need to run both systems parallel.

"The files continue to compound and pile up and it seems to affect our
members coming back from return to work or if they change positions or
whatever they get affected . ... It's just gotten beyond ridiculous.
Imagine a correctional officer who's just come back from a stress
injury and all of a sudden he has the stress of dealing with Phoenix,
which screws everything up from his pay to his taxes. This is
something we don't need."

WS: Your union just settled a collective agreement with the federal
government. Are you happy with how that went?

JG: "We couldn't be more pleased. There are specific things in there
for correctional officers that are very important to us: we end up
back on the top of the salary scale for correctional officers and we
reached a goal of a comparability to our federal counterparts, which
is the RCMP.

"We deserve to be compensated for the job we are doing. It's dangerous
and our job isn't getting any easier with the challenges we're facing
now. If you look in the rest of North America, our collective
agreement is by far one of the best for correctional officers and we
continue to be the envy of other public service unions with similar

"For us, we fall in just under six per cent gap with the RCMP. There
were significant increases, and overall the membership is happy with
the collective agreement. It puts us in that bracket of first

WS: What are some of the Correctional Service Canada policies with
which you're concerned?

JG: We're very concerned about the administrative segregation move
that the government has introduced, Bill C56, which moves to further
limit the use of administrative segregation. We're insisting that the
government at the very least has to listen to what we have to say
about that. We're always looking for alternatives to administrative
segregation. If the issue is around dealing with mentally ill inmates,
which continues to be a massive issue for all institutions in the
country [provincial] and even police officers on the street dealing
with mentally ill people. Give us alternative areas to manage these
people and fund it properly - this is part of the problem. Psychiatric
facilities use chemical restraints to manage inmates that are severe,
high-risk, self-harming inmates. We don't have that option. "As
they're continuing to de-escalate the use of administrative
segregation, we're seeing a spike in incidents, and this is where
we'll be focusing with the government to say ! if we're dealing with
the challenges of high percentages of mentally ill inmates, clearly we
need alternatives.

"It's also for behavioural and disciplinary measures. We can't have
inmates preying on other inmates inside of our walls, which creates
more security incidents and it's more dangerous for inmates and
sometimes our critics don't understand that. You can't completely get
rid of it; you're going to have jails that are going to burn."

WS: What are you looking forward to in 2018?

JG: "We certainly look forward to landing this collective agreement,
trying to get the Phoenix fixed and get that compensation for our
members, and at the same time continuing our work on the mental health
piece. This is huge. There has been much focus on this and that'll be
the challenge and it's been a pretty good news story so far, but we
have to build on it. There's a lot of work to be done yet."

Godin also said the union will continue to work on the fentanyl issue
and the proliferation of drones dropping contraband into Canadian prisons.

"When you think you have one problem wrestled to the ground, another
one comes on."
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