No one was hurt after two fires were set during a lockdown at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) Tuesday evening (May 28).
According to a London Police Service (LPS) staff sergeant, officers were called to the EMDC to respond to a small fire shortly after 6 p.m. While they were responding to that blaze, another broke out in a separate range of cells.
“We believe the (first) fire was intentionally set and we’re going to be investigating that as an arson,” Staff Sgt. Bill Berg said outside the EMDC gates.
He said both fires were relatively small and put out quickly by London firefighters, but Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU) representative Rain Loftus said the second fire was more substantial than the first.
The fires came just hours after Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur riled opposition MPPs, union leaders and correction officers (CO’s) by implying recent assaults on CO’s in Ontario jails – four in the past three days, including one at EMDC that saw a guard stabbed in the face – are the result of guards not doing their job.
She made the comments in response to a question from Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek (PC) about the recent assaults.
“Who is not doing their job when there are drugs going into facility?” the minister said. “Who is not doing their job when there are knives going into the facility?”
Loftus, who isn’t a CO himself, said he doesn’t know how the inmates manage to set fires or obtain drugs and weapons.
“They bury things in some pretty deep places, I’ll leave it at that,” he said, adding that while guards perform strip searches of inmates, there is no protocol for cavity searches.
“That’s why some of the CO’s are infuriated,” he said. “It’s not for a lack of doing their job, it's because they don’t have the tools or ability to do those types of searches. If (Meilleur) were here this evening and saw how these folks jumped in to do their job and make sure no one was hurt, I would hope she would retract her comments.”
Meilleur’s comments prompted a demand for an apology from an “infuriated” Warren “Smokey” Thomas.
“That Minister Meilleur would have the gall to accuse correctional officers for safety problems in the facility just proves how out of her depth she is,” the OPSEU president said in a press release. “Last fall, the Minister put a plan in place to fix this facility, and so far it’s only gotten worse. If that’s the best the Minister’s managers can do, then it’s time for Meilleur to step aside and let someone run this Ministry who knows what they are doing.”