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OTTAWA — Unions representing workers in Canadian prisons, at the borders, in the federal justice system, and serving veterans say the federal government has some explaining – and listening – to do when it comes to how cuts are putting public safety at risk.

The leaders of the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN), the Union of Solicitor General Employees (USGE), the Customs and Immigration Union (CIU), the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees (UVAE) and the Association des membres de la Police Montée du Québec (AMPMQ), which together represent more than 33,000 workers in the field of public safety, are teaming up to organize a forum on public safety in Ottawa this fall. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has declined an invitation to attend.

“In the face of so little information from the government, we feel it is our responsibility to share what we are learning,” said UCCO-SACC-CSN president Pierre Mallette, whose members serve as correctional officers in federal penitentiaries across the country. “It is unfortunate that the minister chose not to consult us before imposing these cuts. Now we hope he’ll at least listen to our concerns about what they will mean,” he added.

USGE president John Edmunds says that because of the cuts, parole officers working in federal penitentiaries who are already stretched beyond capacity now have to take on even bigger caseloads. In maximum security institutions, for example, caseloads have increased from 25 to 30 offenders for each parole officer.

“This makes no sense and will inevitably put our members and community safety at risk,” he said.

Mallette says his members and the public are at risk because of cuts that will leave federal penitentiaries even more overcrowded.

“We know from experience that when prison living conditions are deteriorating, we no longer fulfill our rehabilitation mandate, said Pierre Mallette. That’s when we see a revolving door syndrome in federal prisons: the inmates leave the prison, go on committing other crimes and go right back in,” said Mallette. We fear that the federal government cuts will only make this situation worse.”

“At the borders we are seeing big cuts to intelligence work, including sections such as the money laundering unit. What we don’t know is how the government plans to make up for this,” said CIU president Jean-Pierre Fortin.

“When it comes to gun control, illegal drugs and national security the border is Canada’s first line of defence,” said Fortin. “How can the federal government possibly defend decisions to cut back on intelligence work at the borders given the recent shooting sprees in Toronto and Montreal?”

UVAE president Yvan Thauvette said his members are shocked that the government is willing to send soldiers to war but is abdicating its responsibility to provide them the services they need when they return.

“Keeping Canadians safe means treating those who make the biggest sacrifices with respect. Instead, we are seeing services to veterans being cut,” he said.

AMPMQ president Gaetan Delisle says all of the public safety cuts – not just those at the RCMP, impact on the work officers do.

“The Federal Government seems to have abandoned its responsibilities related to public safety. We do not know what will be the impact on public safety,” said Delisle.

The union leaders say they hope the minister will reconsider his decision and agree to attend the forum.

“In the meantime, we are sitting down together to map out how to make this public safety forum as informative as possible,” said Mallette.

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