Prison guards need priority COVID-19 vaccinations, union says
By Jim Bronskill
OTTAWA — A union representing federal prison guards says vaccinating them against COVID-19 should be a priority, given their front-line role in correctional institutions.
Members should be inoculated at their workplaces as quickly as possible, said Jeff Wilkins, national president of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
The call came Wednesday amid talk of plans by the Correctional Service to begin vaccinating inmates Friday.
The union said the prison service has sent some 1,200 doses of vaccines to various institutions and plans to immunize elderly inmates first.
The Correctional Service had no immediate comment.
The office of Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said while the Correctional Service is providing vaccinations to inmates under its supervision, those who work in the prisons will be vaccinated through provincial authorities.
The prison service is working with the Public Health Agency of Canada to ensure correctional staff are among the priority groups for the vaccine, “so they get it as soon as they can,” Blair’s office added.
Conservative public safety critic Shannon Stubbs said in a statement it is “outrageous that incarcerated criminals will receive vaccines before vulnerable seniors in long-term care homes, front-line health care workers, first responders and correctional officers.”
About 225 of the union’s more than 7,400 members have tested positive for COVID-19, Wilkins said Wednesday in an interview.
The prison service must recognize that officers have been working for months in institutions where physical distancing is difficult.
Although the Correctional Service has a legal mandate to provide care, custody and control to the inmate population it also has a responsibility to protect staff members from disease under the Canadian Labour Code, he added.
“First off, we need to make sure that we have a workforce available to to go into those workplaces that are seeing some significant outbreaks right now.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2021.
News from © Canadian Press Enterprises Inc. 2021.