September 27, 2020

BY RYAN GOODYEAR

Chances are if you have driven down Homer Watson Boulevard, past the Grand Valley Institution for Women recently, you have seen Jamie Rushton outside protesting.

Rushton was at the site after recent allegations that a correctional facilities officer has been trading drugs and cigarettes for sex.

Standing by the side of the road in a pink baseball cap and overalls, Rushton holds a sign in one hand and his dog in the other.

“The reason I’m out here is because I heard that there was a male guard here who was suspended for trading tobacco or drugs for sex,” Rushton said. “I watch the staff roll out of here and they are 80 per cent male. I just don’t think a women’s prison should be run by men.”

However, Rushton is not just a person off the street; he does have a direct connection to the prison. Joanna Rushton, Jamie’s wife, has been serving time inside the Grand Valley Institute for two years, after being convicted for what Jamie calls helping in the proceeds of crime. So it comes as little shock that when Rushton heard the news of the allegations it struck a  chord with him.

Both public and media response have been positive said Rushton, who has done interviews with CTV and is working with local university students to help spread awareness through social media.

“There are university students who are pretty involved, social networking wise. They’re busy, they don’t have the time to come out and do this but they have started a Facebook page called The Grand Valley Protest.”

As far as commuters who pass him every day go, Rushton said he has been getting a lot of support, shown through the honking of horns and people waving, but he doesn’t expect to get it from everyone.

“I’m only looking for that one in 100,” he said.

Support has also come in the form of Conestoga College student Simone Morrison, who discussed both the allegations and the protest with Rushton after passing him several times on the way to school. It was after going home and researching the facts behind the whole situation that she decided to stand outside the institution and join in the protest.

“I had driven by a few times and had seen Jamie out. The one night it was pretty cold so I went and grabbed him a meal from McDonald’s and a coffee and I came down and asked him why he was here. He told me what was going on, and I then asked him what time he was here until, then I went home and researched to see if what he was saying was true. So I googled it, found a bunch of stuff on CTV and then I came out the next day, and I’ve been here since,” said Morrison.

Both Morrison and Rushton agree that if allegations like these are to be avoided in the future, preventative measures need to be taken. For Rushton, hiring more female prison guards would be a large step in the right direction.

“I think in a women’s facility, the guards’ numbers need to be reversed. It needs to be 20 per cent men and 80 per cent women. The 20 per cent of men should be there for those bigger women who do have tempers. And if male guards need to work the front gate to keep other men out that’s fine, but there shouldn’t be men roaming the halls,” Rushton said.

According to an article in the Waterloo Region Record, an in-house investigation has been launched regarding the accusations. Morrison said she is happy to hear that something is being done to determine what truly happened. She hopes if a guard is found guilty, he gets more than just a suspension.

“They are doing an in-house investigation now, that’s good, but if any of the officers are abusing their power, it’s not OK. They shouldn’t just get a suspension, they should be kicked out.”

Grand Valley administrators couldn’t be reached for comment.