Simon Drouin was a guard at the Fraser Regional Correctional Centre in Maple Ridge until last week, when he told his bosses he was going to quit over excessive hours without pay.
He says they responded by revoking his security clearance and forcing him to leave the job early.
"They made a public example of me, and they're saying to everybody else, if you do speak up, the same thing is going to happen to you, and ultimately, we're going to fire you," he says.
Drouin says he felt bullied and harassed and was given a letter of reprimand.
"The culture of leadership here is don't rock the boat. We don't want to have any waves, so if you do rock the boat we're going to target you, we're going to take you down."
The 26-year-old was technically a part-time jail guard, supposedly restricted to working 35 hours a week, but instead, he says, he regularly worked almost double that time. It wasn't unusual for him to be assigned 16-hour shifts night after night.
He claims part-timers have been told to work extra hours without pay because management didn't want to pay overtime to full-time guards.
The fatigue finally caught up with Drouin.
"At the worst, one week I fell asleep four times going home … behind the wheel," he says. "And then I decided to just sleep at the prison, and I just never, I was never home."
Drouin says 12 of the other 15 part-time guards at the jail support his call for fewer hours. Ultimately, he says, the situation at the jail threatens public safety.
B.C. Corrections denies problem
The Fraser Regional Correctional Centre is no stranger to controversy. Along with all of the province's jails, it was cited in a report earlier this year by the B.C. auditor general for overcrowding at 142 per cent over capacity. The auditor general listed it as having the largest number of safety and security incidents of all B.C. jails.
B.C. Corrections denies there's a problem at the Fraser facility. It says that all overtime work is volunteer and well compensated.
"No staff members are required to work overtime hours, except in crisis situations, and this was definitely not the case at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre during the period in question," says spokeswoman Cindy Rose in an email.
"During these voluntary overtime shifts, staff are well compensated for their efforts. When concerns were raised by staff at Fraser Regional Correctional Centre, we took immediate action to review our scheduling practices and ensure policies were being followed."
Drouin says overtime did drop in June, but then jumped back up. He tried to fight the unpaid overtime and filed a labour grievance against the jail. He wrote to his union, the B.C. Government Employees Union, complaining about a culture of fear and harassment.
The union would not comment on Drouin's case, only saying there are continuing grievances over staffing at the jail and the information is privileged and confidential.
Fatigue called dangerous for guards
Drouin says tired guards can get into confrontations with inmates and escalate the tension.
"It's a danger to be assaulted, and ultimately they might take your life," he says. "We're putting a lot of money to try to rehabilitate those individuals, and if we don't work on them, they're just going to come out the way they were before, they're going to come out even worse."
Drouin had thought working as a jail guard would serve as a stepping stone to becoming an RCMP officer, but now he fears that with a good reference unlikely, his dream is gone.
"I like the job. I'll do this job anytime. Dealing with management was the hard part," he says.
"I think it's time for them to look at themselves and to realize there is a problem, and it's not me."