BY SURJIT SINGH FLORA AND ALEX GREGORY
Community leaders and union advocates are calling for stricter procedures after dozens of inmates and staff at a Brampton correctional facility were moved after a COVID-19 outbreak this past weekend. More than 60 inmates are in a quarantined area at an Etobicoke detention centre and eight staff members are in selfisolation after an outbreak was declared at the Ontario Correctional Institute, located on McLaughlin Road in Brampton.
The facility was closed Monday evening for a “deep cleaning”, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of the Solicitor General, and there is no timetable yet for when the facility will reopen. All of the inmates at the Brampton facility have been moved to a dedicated area in the Toronto South Detention Centre.
The move came after three staff members at the facility tested positive for the virus, with Peel Public Health declaring an outbreak at the facility shortly afterwards. It is currently unknown as to how many inmates tested positive for the virus. “All inmates are being transferred to a separate area at Toronto South Detention Centre (TSDC), and will not be placed with existing TSDC inmates to reduce any potential spread of COVID-19,” said Ministry spokesperson Kristy Denette via email. “TSDC, our newest facility, has a modern healthcare unit with medical isolation units and appropriate resources, to effectively manage and support inmates with COVID-19.”
The situation prompted concern from local politicians, including Brampton North NDP MPP Kevin Yarde, regarding the safety of frontline workers and proper distancing procedures during the outbreak. “The crisis at (the Brampton facility) – where at least 60 inmates and eight workers have tested positive for COVID-19 – was preventable, and the need to transfer hundreds of inmates to Toronto was preventable,” said Yarde, who serves as the opposition critic for Community Safety and Correctional Services.
“Now, in the wake of hundreds of inmates being moved to the Toronto South Detention Centre – which also has had three inmates and one staff member test positive for COVID-19 – it is crucial that the Ford government step up and ensure that proper precautions are taken in this facility and facilities across the province, to guard against the continuing spread of the virus.”
Yarde reiterated that all of the province’s correctional facilities should reinforce physical distancing, making sure everyone has the personal protective equipment they need, and greatly expanding testing in jails, as suggested by Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Yaffe. In a statement, Denette stated that the Ministry would continue to work with Peel Public Health “to identify and test staff and inmates who may be impacted.”
The situation at the Brampton facility echoes a similar situation that took place at Toronto South Detention Centre last week, when a male officer in his 40s tested positive for the virus. The case marked the first confirmed presence of the virus in a provincial jail.
Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) president Warren Thomas also leveled strong condemnations at the Ministry of the Solicitor General earlier this week. “For weeks, the people running our jails have ignored the direction of public health officials and know-how of frontline workers who want to keep our jails as safe as possible,” Thomas said Sunday morning. “The Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General has a responsibility to keep corrections workers and inmates safe.”