CUPE urges the Ontario Ombudsman to expand the scope of its investigation into the sudden, covert closure of 26 youth justice facilities that occurred earlier this month. CUPE workers at three of the closed facilities describe the Ministry’s closure decision and operation as “cruel, unjust, and heartless”.

The investigation must explore the rights of youth attending justice facilities to have access to their families and direct communities, which is now impossible for those in rural areas due to the closures. Premier Ford has essentially abandoned youth in rural communities by limiting their access to families during a particularly vulnerable time in their lives. CUPE calls on the Ford government to immediately reverse its harmful decision to defund and close each of the youth justice facilities.

“Youth were awoken in the middle of the night, shackled, and sent by plane to other facilities. Clearly, workers and youth were intentionally left in the dark, otherwise youth would have had time to inform their families and prepare for relocation,” says Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “The closure operation was cold and militant in nature—it’s a true disservice to vulnerable youth who deserve support now more than ever.”

Workers were given mere hours to prepare for the closure and re-location of youth. Workers were instructed to keep details of the closures a secret until youth were successfully transferred, CUPE reports.

“Youth in justice facilities deserve to have access to their families and community—many of the youth are now up to eight hours away from their loved ones, which is a huge detriment to their well-being and rehabilitation,” says Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, CUPE Ontario Social Services Chair. “The methodology behind the closures was unjust and the newfound distance between youth and their families is a clear detriment to their successful reintegration into their respective communities, which must be investigated and rectified.”

Youth justice workers who are CUPE members will be contacting the Ontario Ombudsman to further detail their complaints regarding both the methodology of the closures and the merits of the Ford government’s decision to close rural youth justice facilities.