The Alberta government is considering using the Edmonton Young Offender Centre to temporarily house people who defy public-health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As Alberta begins to reopen, we must consider the potential need for a controlled facility if a high-risk individual refuses to quarantine in their private residence or a government-provided facility such as a hotel room,” Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer’s press secretary Jonah Mozeson said in an emailed statement Wednesday.
“For example, an international traveller entering Alberta who refuses to self-isolate as required and willingly puts Albertans’ health at risk,” the statement continued, “could be temporarily housed at a secure facility for his or her required 14 day self-isolation period.”
Mozeson said the government would only do so as an “extraordinary last resort.”
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) says centre employees first began hearing late last week about plans to transfer the centre’s occupants to Calgary — discussions that escalated in the past few days.
“What we are hearing is that they are potentially moving the kids so that they have the building to be able to house those that have COVID-19 infections who are violating the order of the [chief medical officer of health],” union vice-president Susan Slade said, “and also possibly that they could house people in the corrections system that are infected.”
No one from the government consulted with the union in advance about any transfer plans, Slade said. She said nothing has been communicated in writing and the union, which represents roughly 70 centre employees, does not know when exactly such a move will take place.
“As far as we know, it could happen at any time,” she said.
In his statement, Mozeson said if the province ultimately uses the facility to house those defying quarantine orders, it “would not house high-risk individuals under quarantine in the same facility with young offenders whose health may be compromised.”
He said the centre currently houses 18 young offenders.
Union raises safety concerns
But Slade said AUPE has serious safety concerns about any plans to move the centre’s occupants, and especially to Calgary, which she called a “hotbed” for COVID-19.
“You are increasing their risk of being infected,” she said.
She said some of the children and youth are from northern Alberta. Their families or guardians would have to travel to Calgary to visit them, she said, or take them into care if they are released from custody during the pandemic.
“So again that means them coming into Calgary, which is increasing their chances of being infected, as well as taking the kids back to wherever they are from,” which also increases the risk of exposing their home communities, she said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney announced that while the province will proceed with the first phase of its relaunch plan on Thursday, both Calgary and Brooks will reopen more slowly than the rest of the province.
Restaurants, cafes, hair salons, and barbershops won’t be allowed to reopen until May 25; places of worship and day camps can relaunch June 1.
Slade said the union is calling on the government to halt any plans to transfer the centre’s occupants. She said the facility can house around 300 people and the government can use the centre without uprooting those currently in custody.
“There is no need to move 20 young persons out of there,” she said. “There are ways of making sure that the isolated clients are still isolated, and that the kids are still safe.
“There is no reason to be moving them.”