|Cans of bear spray, Jan. 11, 2010. (QMI Agency)
WINNIPEG - A pair of correctional officers were blasted with bear spray by a balaclava-clad thug outside the jail in downtown Winnipeg.
The guards were on a break outside the Winnipeg Remand Centre around 8:15 p.m. Saturday when the suspect let loose with the spray, which, among the effects, irritates the eyes and makes it tough to breathe.
A spokesman for the correctional officers' union said he has never heard of an assault like this against its members and he is concerned about the attack.
"Correctional officers have to deal with inmates on a daily basis and they're subject sometimes to physical abuse," said Bill Anderson of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union. "Inmates are not always in the facilities. It's unfortunate that individuals basically have to be on duty 24-7."
Police were mum on whether it's believed the jail guards were targeted by the suspect, who was described as a thin male wearing a balaclava and a hooded sweatshirt pulled tightly around his face.
Anderson said the union wants to explore the safety of officers, both on and off the job.
Manitoba Justice said it was conducting an internal review of its procedures and the assault.
Since Jan. 1, 2009, legislation has been in place in Manitoba regulating the sale of bear spray, trying to keep it out of the wrong hands. Retailers are required to keep records of who it is sold to and submit those sales records to the government.
All too frequently, however, bear spray has been used in attacks and against law enforcement officials on several occasions.
In September 2010, a Winnipeg police officer was blasted in the face with the noxious substance while chasing a man who matched the description of a convicted car thief wanted for cutting off an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet.
The union for city cops says it is aware of "three or four" assaults using bear spray against officers over the past several years.
"It's disturbing in the sense that it's relatively debilitating, because you can't see and it makes officers more vulnerable," said Mike Sutherland, president of the Winnipeg Police Association.