A five-month undercover investigation has cracked a drug-smuggling operation at a Halifax jail, police said Friday as provincial justice officials admitted they need to do a better job of screening their employees.
The RCMP said 14 people were arrested Thursday in Halifax, Truro and Cape Breton and face a total of 43 charges in connection with the probe into drug trafficking at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.
Investigators allege eight of those charged were involved in smuggling drugs including hydromorphone, marijuana and steroids throughout the jail. The accused include two corrections officers and a nurse who no longer work at the jail as well as an inmate. The remaining six people were allegedly part of unrelated drug-trafficking operations that became known as a result of the investigation, the Mounties said.
The RCMP and Halifax police launched their investigation after a corrections officer was charged in October with breach of trust and possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking.
Correctional Services director Sean Kelly said justice officials then conducted an internal review that concluded hiring standards and security and background checks could be improved.
Mr. Kelly said there would be changes based on best practices found in other jurisdictions.
"For example, we'll be looking closely at lifestyle choices made by prospective candidates regarding drug use and alcohol use," he told a news conference.
"We'll also be looking at whether or not they've have had associations with criminal elements despite perhaps having no criminal record themselves."
Mr. Kelly said staff routinely search the jail for contraband, and ion scanners and metal detectors are also used to prevent illegal activity.
"If we do have information to suggest that someone might be bringing drugs into the facility, we do have the authority to conduct a search," he added.
He said while some jurisdictions in the United States require pat-downs of jail guards, there are no plans to implement that in Nova Scotia.
But Justice Minister Ross Landry said he wouldn't rule out the possibility of introducing pat-downs of jail guards if the government believes they are needed.
"We don't want to be overreacting because this incident happened and say, 'if we do pat-downs that solves the problem,'" Mr. Landry said in an interview. "There may be many other things we can do and maybe that's one of them. I'm not sure."
Mr. Landry said he wasn't concerned the arrests would shake the public's confidence in those who work at the province's jails.
"In any organization and in particular in this type of work, people are vulnerable and we need to be vigilant in how we approach these issues," he said.