Pubdate: Sat, 19 Mar 2016
Source: Observer, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016, Sarnia Observer
Author: Michael Tutton
Page: A5


Families of Dead Provincial Inmates Grieve As Demands for 
Accountability Rebuffed

SYDNEY, N. S. - Ernest LeBlanc sits by the wooden box that contains 
his son's cremated remains, clenching his hands as he describes his 
anger at the wall of silence that has greeted most of his questions 
about his son's death in a Cape Breton jail hours after being admitted.

"I want to know how he died. I know he could have been saved. He 
didn't deserve to die like this," says the 64-year-old resident of 
Sydney Mines, N. S.

The father says Jason Marcel LeBlanc, 42, was seen on internal jail 
video gasping on the early hours of Jan. 31, after police brought him 
to the Cape Breton Correctional Facility when he missed his curfew at 
a halfway house.

He says prison officials told him his son "didn't look his best" upon 
arrival, and that he's learned from a medical examiner that Jason had 
pills in his cell.

LeBlanc says the unanswered questions haunt him.

Why didn't a nurse send his son to hospital if he looked unwell? How 
often was Jason checked in his cell? If there were pills, how did he 
obtain and keep them?

He wants a public inquiry, but jail cell deaths in Nova Scotia, New 
Brunswick and Newfoundland don't require a mandatory public inquest 
when caused by non-natural events like overdose or suicide.

In Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and the Prairie provinces, 
coroners' inquest or fatality inquiries are ordered in non-natural 
and preventable deaths. There are provisos such as a clause in 
Alberta that requires there to be a "meaningful connection" between 
the death and the quality of in-custody supervision.

In Nova Scotia, the chief medical examiner can recommend a public 
inquiry to the Justice Department, but there hasn't been an inquiry 
since 2010 when a judge looked at how Howard Hyde died in jail after 
being repeatedly tasered. Since that inquiry, there have been six 
deaths in the province's jails.

In neighbouring New Brunswick, the province says it only confirms 
deaths if asked. It required a newspaper's freedom of information 
request last fall to reveal that 11 people have died in custody in 
the province since Jan. 1, 2004.

After The Canadian Press asked for an update, Public Safety 
Department spokesman Paul Bradley said Wednesday there's been a 12th 
death of a man on Feb. 29 due to "a condition that pre-existed prior 
to his incarceration." Bradley says the disclosure policy is being reviewed.

Devin Maxwell, a lawyer who represents a mother suing the Nova Scotia 
government over the April 7, 2014 cell death of her son, says the 
parents of deceased inmates face a demoralizing battle for information.

Maxwell is in the second year of a legal action centering on how 23- 
year-old Clayton Cromwell managed to receive a lethal dose of 
unprescribed medical methadone while in the Central Nova Scotia 
Correctional Facility in Halifax.

Maxwell's freedom of information request asking for an internal 
report completed in July of that year was declined.

The lawyer said that forced him to start a legal action in an attempt 
to learn more about how Cromwell died, revealing an emergency buzzer 
in the cell of the Central Nova Correctional Centre wasn't working 
and that there had been another overdose in the same living area just 
a day earlier.

"Until you launch the lawsuit, according to the government you don't 
have rights to any of the information. You might have rights to the 
autopsy report ... but you'll have a difficult time getting a copy of 
the investigation at the prison itself," says Maxwell.

The province says it can't comment because of the legal action. 
Chrissy Matheson, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, says, "we 
have one of the most open and transparent approaches in the country 
when reporting what happens in our correctional facilities."

However, some public health doctors argue for automatic coroner's 
inquests in each prison death, with public findings that attempt to 
improve the system.

Ontario epidemiologist Dr. Fiona Kouyoumdjian, who is studying the 
causes of death and injury in her province's jails, says it's 
difficult to know how many people are dying in jails across the 
country. She cites the latest studies showing 327 deaths in 
provincial facilities from 2001 to 2010, or about 33 people a year 
dying in provincial and territorial jails.

Kouyoumdjian says overdose deaths such as those of Cromwell are part 
of a wider national concern over the health care of provincial prisoners.

In the Cape Breton jail where LeBlanc died, freedom of information 
documents indicate that between 2007 and last year, there were 585 
incidents where guards seized contraband from prisoners, 20 cases of 
smuggling, and 18 cases of prisoners being intoxicated on arrival.

Kouyoumdjian argues for reforms such as better treatment programs, 
educating prisoners and guards on the dangers of opiates, permitting 
prisoners to admit they have drugs without imposing penalties on 
them, and allowing the on-site use of drugs like naloxone to counter 
opiate overdoses.

But she says discussion of potential reforms requires an open process.

"So many of these deaths are preventable," she says.

"There needs to be accountability on what's happening in custody."

LeBlanc says his son is a good example - describing Jason as a non- 
violent, opiate addict who needed access to substance abuse programs, 
not more time in a jail.

"He's here with me, all because he never had the right treatment," he 
says, clenching his hand. "I would like to have an independent inquiry."
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