Rioting inmates tear-gassed after setting massive blaze
Trish Audette and Emily Senger, The Edmonton Journal
EDMONTON – Hours after a major knife fight at Edmonton’s maximum security prison sent eight inmates to hospital, guards fired tear gas at about 40 inmates who refused to go back to their cells Tuesday night.
The violence began around 3 p.m., when two gangs clashed during a recreational period in the Edmonton Institution’s fenced-off yard.
Correctional officers wearing riot gear moved into the yard at 10 p.m. An hour later, flames could be seen reaching well above Edmonton Institution’s squat buildings in the city’s north end.
A fire rages in the yard at Edmonton Institution, where inmates rioted after several prisoners were stabbed and at least one was shot during an incident Tuesday night.
The inmates had set their own sweat lodge on fire.
Rick Dhym, a spokesman for Correctional Service of Canada, said teams were working on negotiating with the rebel prisoners, but it was unclear what their demands were.
Knives were pulled as soon as a group of nearly 50 inmates entered the yard Tuesday afternoon.
“The incident, I think, was very much a surprise to one of the gangs involved in this fight,” said Kevin Grabowsky, regional president for the union that represents correctional officers.
Several shots were fired by correctional officers. Most of those shots, Grabowsky said, would have been warnings, but at least one bullet struck an inmate.
“Warning shots were fired,” said Dhym. “(One man) refused to give up his weapon and stop attacking another inmate.”
Most of the injured men are in their mid-20s. Seven received stab wounds, and one was both stabbed and shot. No guards were injured.
Inmates who later engaged in an hours-long standoff let officers pull the wounded out of the yard.
Paramedics transported most of the men to Edmonton’s Royal Alex and University hospitals by ground ambulance. Two patients — one in his 20s and one in his 30s — were airlifted from the prison.
At press time, two men remained in critical condition, one at University hospital, and another at the Royal Alex.
The inmates who refused to go back inside Tuesday could be heard yelling from inside the gates.
At one point a man yelled, “Give us some f—ing water!”
At another point, a man was heard shouting, “Get away from that fence!”
Shortly before 11 p.m., guards used six canisters of tear gas to push the inmates into one area of the yard. More gas was used around 11:20 p.m.
Fire crews moved into the yard as the sweat lodge fire grew, and two ambulances were waiting outside the prison’s gates.
The blaze was put out at 11:35 p.m.
For guards, there was concern over how many of the inmates were still armed. Some knives were recovered after the afternoon fight — including a razor blade fixed to a toothbrush — but it was not known what other weapons might be in the yard.
The rest of the inmates in the prison who were not involved in the fight were in lockdown throughout the standoff.
Grabowsky described high tension inside the 200-inmate prison. When gang stress is high on the streets, it builds inside the Max.
Edmonton police said they were investigating the incident alongside correctional officers.
Grabowsky called the Canada Day incident one of a series of “stab fests” becoming common in Prairie penitentiaries. “Our gang problems are pretty serious,” he said. “There’s always a tension inside.”