07/21/2016 09:07 EDT | Updated 07/21/2016 09:59 EDT

Province Denies Overcrowding, Gang Tensions To Blame For Youth Jail Riot

Inmates caused extensive damage to the centre.

BURNABY, B.C. — The British Columbia government is pushing back against claims that a Burnaby youth detention centre where inmates rioted on Tuesday night is overcrowded.

The Burnaby Youth Secure Custody Centre's director of programs says in a statement issued by the Children's Ministry the facility is fully staffed and only at about half capacity with a total of 43 residents.

Andrew Cronkhite is responding to the union representing correctional workers, which said staff had warned of "rising tensions'' after a similar facility in Victoria closed and inmates were transferred.

But Cronkhite says the seven male youths, aged 15 to 17, involved in the incident are from the Lower Mainland and Interior and would not have been housed on Vancouver Island.

All youth safe and accounted for

He says the primary motivation behind the riot appears to have been a room search earlier in the day that resulted in a loss of privileges.

Cronkhite says the inmates caused extensive damage to furniture and electronic equipment, and put paper in a toaster to start a small fire, which they later put out themselves.

"Staff followed safety protocols, and called the RCMP and fire officials as soon as the youths began to cause the damage,'' he says.

"Fortunately, there were no injuries to residents, staff or police. All of the youths are safe and accounted for, and the youths involved in the incident were contained within the centre at all times.''

RCMP investigation begins

He says WorkSafe BC, RCMP and the ministry are all conducting investigations, including reviewing surveillance video and interviewing staff and residents.

"Based on interviews with those involved, there is no indication that rival gang tensions were a root cause of the dissention, as some have suggested publicly,'' he says.

He says the RCMP will determine whether to lay charges once their investigation is complete, and the only other previous serious incident of this nature in Burnaby was in 2010.

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