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Prison guards’ union backs mental-disorder claims in B.C.

A view of the Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C. The union representing Canadian correctional officers wants Corrections Canada to stop challenging workers’ claims of mental trauma.


The union representing prison guards is asking Corrections Canada to stop challenging the claims of workers who seek time off based on medical diagnoses of mental disorders.

Gord Robertson, president of the Pacific region for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, said in an interview Tuesday the government routinely rejects medical opinions concerning mental trauma and tries to dismiss such claims.

"It's being challenged in a lot of cases … they basically blanket appeal all of these [claims by workers] and it just retraumatizes people," Mr. Robertson said in the wake of a decision by WorkSafeBC upholding a guard's claim.

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Rather than accept the diagnoses of a psychiatrist and medical doctor, Corrections Canada disputed the claim, saying the guard should have been able to deal with the trauma of a prison murder because it was standard fare in the job.

But WorkSafeBC ruled the guard, whose name wasn't provided, had a valid claim after witnessing the grisly aftermath of a prison-cell murder and then experiencing two other inmate deaths. A spokesman for Corrections Canada was not immediately available for comment. Mr. Robertson said the worker's claim should never have been challenged.

"In quite a few cases they get a little overzealous," he said of Corrections Canada. "Someone thinks [workers] are scamming when they are not. … All we ask for is an objective look at the medical evidence," said Mr. Robertson.

"We do witness lots of grotesque and difficult situations. We are faced with a lot," said Mr. Robertson. "In a case where [trauma] is diagnosed by a psychologist or a psychiatrist or a family physician, that's the diagnosis we expect to be respected [by Corrections Canada]," he said.

"We've brought it up in several meetings with [Corrections Canada] … and they are looking to try to make it more of a healing approach or a helping approach to the staff. We haven't seen that yet, but they did commit to try and fix the problem," he said.

Mr. Robertson said the guard was on duty when a prisoner was murdered by his cellmate at the Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C., in 2010. The guard didn't see the murder but was on hand afterward and saw the body. He asked for counselling at the time, but when he didn't get it, tried to "be strong" and carry on without it. In a review by WorkSafeBC, the guard said the trauma surfaced a year later when he was exposed to two other inmate deaths. Although the employer argued "that inmate deaths were not unusual," Wendy Jeske, a review officer for WorkSafeBC ruled the guard had experienced trauma and had a valid claim. "I find that the first event followed by the other two inmate deaths, when taken together were excessive in their intensity, and were beyond the normal pressures," she concluded.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More


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