THUNDER BAY - Grievances filed by three correctional officers at the Thunder Bay District Jail who believed their personal information was erroneously shared with two inmates have been dismissed.
Tatiana Wacyk, an arbitrator with the Grievance Settlement Board, released her decision on July 28, 2022 in the matter between the Ontario Public Service Employees Union on behalf of the three correctional officers and the Ministry of the Solicitor General.
It was alleged the Ministry was in violation of the Collective Agreement and the Occupational Health and Safety Act by failing to “take all reasonable precautions with regard to the grievors’ safety both in and outside of the workplace.”
Hearings opened in February 2021 and concluded in March 2022. The incident dates back to March 2014 when an assault at the Thunder Bay District Jail by two inmates sent another inmate to the hospital.
Two of the correctional officers were on duty in the living unit where the assault took place and the third officer arrived shortly after and transported the injured inmate to the hospital. Officers with the Thunder Bay Police Service took the correctional officer’s contact information at the hospital after interviewing the injured inmate.
The two inmates were charged and the Police Service’s record management system auto-populated the information of the officers from another database into the disclosure for the Crown.
In July 2014, one of the inmates involved in the assault and had connections to a Toronto gang, informed one of the correctional officers that the personal information of the three officers including home addresses and cell phone numbers were included in the disclosure prepared by the Crown and sent to his lawyer.
The inmate also said the second inmate involved in the assault, who did not like the correctional officer, also had the personal information.
The correctional officers raised the issue with the deputy superintendent at the District Jail who later emailed the three officers stating an error had occurred at the Courthouse in processing the disclosure and that their personal information was listed.
The email went on to say that the police, Crown, and defense counsel dealt with the matter and all personal information had been removed from the disclosure.
However, the three officers were under the impression that the disclosure had been seen by the inmates, which caused significant stress, anxiety, and concerns for their safety.
A law enforcement investigator met with the three officers over the coming weeks and made recommendations for home security measures, though any upgrades would have to be paid for by the officers, which they could not afford.
One of the officers so distressed by the circumstances ended up leaving the District Jail and moving to another jurisdiction.
The three officers believed the inmates had seen their personal information and it wasn’t until the Settlement Board hearings, seven years later, that it became clear that the inmates had never actually seen the disclosure with their personal information and it was only sent to the one inmate’s lawyer in Toronto.
In her decision, Wacyk said the evidence shows “things went awry very early in the parties’ communications.”
“Accordingly, to the extent there occurred a breakdown in the communications between the Employer and the grievors regard in this issue, resulting in unnecessary concern and stress on the part of the grievors, I find the grievors bear some responsibility in that regard,” Wacyk said.
“That having been said, it is apparent the Employer ought to have been clearer in its communications with the grievors. However, I find this lack of clarity was unintentional and resulted in large part from a misunderstanding regarding the grievors’ interpretation of the information they did have, and the specific focus on a ‘full investigation' referenced in their communications.”
Wacyk added that the lack of clarity did not rise to the level of breaching the Collective Agreement or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“Rather, I find on the basis of all of the evidence, the steps the Employer took to protect the safety of the grievors were rational, reasonable and responsible,” she said.
A civil action was also filed by the three correctional officers against the Thunder Bay Police Services Board seeking general damages in the amount of $90,000 and punitive damages of $10,000 for each plaintiff.
The statement of claim was filed in 2016 citing negligence on the part of the Thunder Bay Police Service officers and the Police Services Board for including the correctional officers’ personal information in the disclosure.
“The plaintiffs are seeking redress for the careless breach that has caused severe emotional distress to the plaintiffs and their families with significant risks to their health and safety,” the statement of claim reads.
A statement of defense was filed by the Police Services Board in 2017, however, in June 2022, a ruling was made dismissing the plaintiff’s motion to extend the time to set the matter for trial, with the judge saying the plaintiffs did not demonstrate an acceptable explanation for the delay in proceedings.