Nanaimo union leader skeptical of guard savings

NANAIMO – CUPE Local 401 president says two guards needed to meet RCMP’s requirements.

There is no $360,000 savings in the elimination of prison guards – and everybody knows it, says CUPE 401 president Blaine Gurrie.

A potential savings in a core review recommendation to axe four guard positions doesn’t add up for Gurrie, who says two guards will still be needed most of the time, based on RCMP rules.

While no action has been taken, city council agreed last week to cut guard positions each shift from two to one, ending more than a decade of separate guards for male and female prisoners. A core services review showed the move would save an estimated $360,000 each year, dollars some city councillors saw going toward crime prevention and harm reduction.

Gurrie, who represents city employees, said the core review number is based on the city going down to one guard all the time, and he told council during an in-camera meeting that the jail can’t function on one guard. He was “completely shocked” at council’s decision to move ahead with the decision.

The city still has to meet an RCMP requirement of two guards if there are more than 11 prisoners or a dedicated guard if a prisoner is suicidal. It’s not known how many times the city meets that threshold because that information hasn’t been tracked. With two guards on shift for a number of years, it hasn’t been an issue, according to Mike Dietrich, city manager of police support services.

Gurrie said the guards tell him there’s no possible way there can be just one guard and can’t physically do the work, adding most have said they want to quit.

“Most of the time when you have multiple prisoners in, they need the second guard. No savings. And that’s the part I found misleading about what was told to council and what council said afterwards about what they’d like to do with the money – because there is no extra money,” said Gurrie.

Dietrich would not comment about whether it’s possible to have one guard and said the $360,000 was determined by core review consultants.

John van Horne, the city’s director of human resources, has asked consultants for clarification about the estimated savings. The issue is on Monday’s (Nov. 7) council agenda.