Justice Minister Suzanne Anton stands in front of a 12-members honour guard of correctional officers at the May 2014 groundbreaking for the Okanagan Correctional Centre. The honour guard cost taxpayers $5

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton stands in front of a 12-members honour guard of correctional officers at the May 2014 groundbreaking for the Okanagan Correctional Centre. The honour guard cost taxpayers $5

South Okanagan jail photo-op costs $5,000

Taxpayers shell out to have 12 jail guards provide the backdrop for the groundbreaking ceremony.

Costs for Okanagan Correctional Centre honour guard by Joe Fries

It cost taxpayers over $5,000 to have 12 jail guards provide the backdrop for the groundbreaking ceremony for the Okanagan Correctional Centre.

The ceremony, held May 23 at the jail site just north of Oliver, saw dignitaries pick up gold-coloured shovels for the official photo-op with an excavator, members of the Osoyoos Indian Band and the 12-member honour guard behind them.

Travel costs for the dozen correctional officers tallied $607, while the expense to provide backfill at their usual worksites totalled $1,610, according to figures obtained by the Western News through a freedom of information request.

The correctional workers also collected wages of $3,100 that day, for a total cost of $5,317.

B.C. Corrections spokeswoman Amy Lapsley said in a statement that since the ceremony was the first such event at the site, it was important to have its members represented there.

“As we begin building a relationship with the surrounding communities, it is important that we show our respect and reinforce our commitment to building a safe, strong economic future for the area,” she explained.

Lapsley also noted such honour guards also “have a long and proud history” representing the agency at a variety of events in B.C., including parades, funerals and memorials.

The head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said if being part of the honour guard was so important to them, the correctional officers would have paid their own way.

“It’s unfortunate that so many of those involved in the ceremony needed to be paid to attend, so that the ceremony took place on the taxpayer’s dime,” Gregory Thomas said via email.

Construction activity at the jail site is expected to ramp up in September, with the first inmates slated to arrive at the $193-million facility in about two years’ time.

The B.C. government also announced this week that Steve DiCastri will be the first warden at the new jail.

DiCastri is currently in charge of the Fraser Regional and Ford Mountain correctional centres on the Lower Mainland.

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