About 60 workers at the Victoria Youth Custody Centre received layoff notices Thursday as the B.C. government pushed ahead with plans to close the facility despite widespread opposition.
The B.C. Government and Service Employees’ Union said seven more employees at the Burnaby youth jail also received 90-day layoff notices.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development issued a bulletin stating that it will begin transferring youth to Burnaby from Victoria on July 3.
The announcement prompted anger and dismay among those fighting closing of the Victoria jail.
Oak Bay Coun. Cairine Green, who rallied all 13 capital region municipalities against the decision, said she was left with a feeling of “overwhelming disappointment that they just haven’t listened.”
“And they haven’t listened to people with great credibility … all of [them] telling them the same thing: This is a mistake.”
“You just have a feeling that a year from now, or five years from now, it’s a decision that’s really going to be regretted by everybody,” said Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard.
“We’re all trying to do more with less. But this one, it could be one that’s regretted. It’s going to affect real people and that’s when you’ll see the results.”
Minister of Children and Family Development Stephanie Cadieux announced in April that the provincial government could no longer afford to keep the jail open to house an average of 15 boys a night. The facility was built for 60, but has been budgeted to house a maximum of 24 since the girls’ unit closed in 2012.
Cadieux said the jail closing, announced without consultation, would save $4.5 million a year and offset an equivalent loss of federal money due to the declining number of youth in custody.
Police chiefs, municipal politicians, First Nations leaders, families, corrections officers, researchers, the representative for children and youth and the provincial health officer all spoke against the decision.
Among the concerns was that youth would spend more time in police cells, lose contact with families and community, and experience more violence and gang activity at the Burnaby jail.
Critics also argued that vacant space in the Victoria jail could be repurposed to house female prisoners or youth with mental-health and addictions issues.
NDP children’s critic Carole James, MLA for Victoria-Beacon Hill, said the move could end up costing the government money by increasing recidivism rates.
“I think you’ll see these youth become part of the revolving door in the justice system, because they will lose that connection with community, with family, and for aboriginal children, with their culture.”
BCGEU president-elect Stephanie Smith said her union’s opposition goes beyond protecting jobs. She said transferring Island youth to Burnaby, while also cutting jobs there, will erode support for vulnerable kids, contrary to Cadieux’s claims that programs will improve. “It actually speaks against what they say they’re trying to do,” Smith said.
The ministry said that, over the next month, any youth on long-term remand or sentenced to more than seven days will be transferred directly to Burnaby.
Youth on short-term remand or sentenced to fewer than seven days will be held at the Victoria centre until it closes.
The date of the closing is still to be determined.