Fired, suspended guards used excessive force on prisoner: Clarke

Nova Scotia’s justice minister is standing behind a decision to fire three jail guards and suspend nine others.

Cecil Clarke said the disciplinary action was a result of a fight with an inmate in August at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Dartmouth.

Nine guards were struggling with a prisoner, but three others jumped into the fray, he said.

“This is about a specific incident with an inmate and the way staff have interacted with that inmate using excessive force and affecting him to the point of injury,” Clarke said Friday. “It is a very serious matter and it’s not acceptable.”

The correctional officers were notified this week.

The union representing jail guards claims that authorities are punishing those who took part in work action over another matter.

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union suggests two guards were fired because they refused to escort prisoners in a dispute over workplace safety earlier this year.

“We haven’t been witness to the tapes, but based on speaking to the officers and what they’ve told me and understanding a bit about how the institution is run, it just seems very suspicious that it’s the same people,” said Joan Jessome, president of the NSGEU.

But Clarke dismisses that claim.

“The two are not related in any way,” he said.

Fred Honsberger, head of the province’s correctional system, described the inmate’s injuries as serious but not life-threatening.

He said the incident happened after the inmate assaulted a guard, but he called it “unnecessary and inappropriate.”

The disciplinary action was justified, Honsberger said, adding it’s unprecedented in his 33 years experience.

“It was all based on what was observed on the video, and it’s very defensible, in our view,” said Honsberger.