The Fort Frances OPP and Ministry of Correctional Services officials remain tight-lipped about what exactly happened inside the Fort Frances Jail during last week’s 16-hour standoff .
“There’s no word yet on whether criminal charges are going to be laid as all aspects of the inmates’ conduct are under investigation by police,” noted Julie Rosenberg, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Correctional Services.
“We can call it a standoff involving hostages or a situation involving hostages,” she added.
The standoff came to a peaceful end around 4 p.m. on Friday when, after about 16 hours, the two offending inmates surrendered to police.
“The two inmates surrendered to police and the rest of the inmates were locked in their cells,” confirmed Rosenberg.
The 14 inmates in the jail at the time, including two who face murder charges, were escorted one at a time under heavy guard from the enclosure behind the jail to holding cells below the Fort Frances OPP detachment.
Only two inmates are being blamed for the standoff, which began when they refused to obey orders from corrections officers at the jail around 8:30 p.m. last Thursday.
OPP officers, corrections staff, and a Institutional Crisis Intervention Team were called in from across Northwestern Ontario. A two-block radius was cordoned off and barricaded as they tried to negotiate with the inmates throughout the night and the following day.
At several points during the standoff, police were seen handing cigarettes, pizza, and McDonald’s bags through an open window. The same window reportedly was being used for negotiations.
Three corrections officers and the jail manager were in the jail when the standoff started but two of the staff were later released, including one, after reportedly being pepper-sprayed, around 3:30 a.m.
Chris Bonner-Vickers, a jail guard and local union rep, was called in shortly after the dispute started.
“I wasn’t being held hostage by any means. I was definitely in and around there,” he said.
A 49-member Tactical Response Unit flew in from Barrie and London, Ont. and filed into the Fort Frances Fire Department garage with shields, heavy weaponry, and protective clothing Friday afternoon. But the standoff came to an end before they were called to action.
All 14 inmates have been taken to other provincial jails.
“They have been transferred to other correctional facilities in the province,” said Rosenberg. “The facility [at Fort Frances] will be closed for at least a week as police and ministry officials are investigating.”
During the standoff, a number of local businesses and public buildings were affected. The library’s Teddy Bear Picnic was moved to the Townshend Theatre while the Knox United Church pie sale was held at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
The Fort Frances Clinic and Clinic Dispensary also were closed and all appointments cancelled. The Civic Centre and Fort Frances Courthouse also were shut down, with any scheduled court proceedings held at the Ministry of Natural Resources building on Scott Street instead.
Also closed were Gillons’ Insurance, Holmlund Financial, the Land Assessment Office, Lakeland Personnel, and the Fort Frances Dental Centre.