The provincial government may have had a change of heart when it comes to providing security officers in hospitals, and other public places, with powers to detain violent people.

In response to rising violence, the province introduced Bill 17: The Police Services Amendment Act on Monday that would give security officers, deemed Institutional Safety Officers, additional authority to enforce provincial laws in cases where public safety is at risk.

Not long ago Health Minister Cam Friesen disputed the MGEU’s assertion that hospital security officers were being told to intervene in situations but were not given the proper authority and power to do so.

However, the MGEU repeatedly pressed the government to recognize and address the problem last year due to rising violence at some health care facilities. As part of those efforts, MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky sent a letter to the Health and Justice Ministers, recommending that officers be empowered with elevated legal status. She also called on employers to provide the training required to allow officers to exercise their authority appropriately.

Gawronsky says that while it took far too long for the government to recognize the problem, she is encouraged by the new bill and the government’s reversal on this important issue.

“Our members were receiving mixed messages from the government and their employer so I hope this new legislation will make it much clearer for them to know how to respond. Having said that, we still need to review these amendments in detail to determine if they fully meet the needs of front line security,” added Gawronsky.

With the bill's introduction, the province also announced a review of the security facilities at each health-care facility.

While remaining optimistic about the review, Gawronsky cautions against yet another private consultant providing the security audit in health care facilities.  

“We are concerned that too often, when this government hires a private consultant to make recommendations, it is a path to cuts and privatization of vital public services.”

Legislation Opens the Door for Safety Officers at other Government Facilities: Gawronsky

As part of the new legislation, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen also noted the possibility of Institutional Safety Officers working at other government facilities where public services are delivered.

The MGEU has flagged this issue in the media and with the government several times over the past year and Gawronsky believes that the new legislation opens the door for additional security measures at Liquor Marts and Employment and Income Assistance offices where violence has escalated in recent months.

“We’ve been talking about violent incidents, not just at hospitals, but at Liquor Marts, EIA offices and other public places for some time now. I think the introduction of this legislation is a good opportunity to continue that discussion and find out from the government if this new role can help reduce violence where other MGEU members provide services directly to the public.”

The province describes institutional safety officers as having a role similar to community safety officers and First Nations safety officers and the Minister says their duties would be determined through consultation, as well as the type of training, uniforms and equipment they receive.