The Ontario government and police are keeping secret the details surrounding another death at the troubled Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
The discovery of a body was reported Sunday afternoon to London police, which would report only that the inmate’s death is not believed to the result of foul play. Police, the regional coroner’s office and the corrections ministry are investigating the death.
“Because foul play is not suspected we don’t release information,” London Police Service Constable Ken Steeves told the Toronto Star Wednesday.
The death — the sixth since 2007 — comes as efforts are being made by former inmates of the notorious jail to launch a $325-million class action lawsuit against EMDC.
The Ministry Community Safety and Correctional Services said the coroner’s office concluded that one of the six deaths was a homicide, three were natural causes and the remaining two are still under investigation.
“The safety and security of correctional staff and inmates is our top priority and my thoughts and condolences are with the family and loved ones of the deceased,” said Community Safety and Correctional Services Minister Yasir Naqvi, who refused Wednesday to comment on the investigations, as did the coroner’s office.
The death also comes on the heels of Naqvi being ordered by Premier Kathleen Wynne to transform the provincial jail system, including addressing relieving chronic overcrowding.
The class action statement of claim filed by London lawyer Kevin Egan states that operators of the jail “have fostered an atmosphere of violence, brutality and intimidation” by not following proper policies. The lawsuit, which has yet to be certified, also claims the inmates’ Charter rights have been violated because of the jail’s “overcrowded, unsanitary and unsafe conditions.”
The province does not have to file a statement of defence until the lawsuit is certified by the Superior Court.
Egan said regardless of how the latest inmate died, the death raises even more troubling questions about the jail and the people who run it. The London Free Press reported Wednesday the inmate committed suicide.
“If someone dies on their watch . . . the question is why did that happen?” he said
Egan says he’s suspicious of all deaths at the jail for good reason.
“When Randy Drysdale died in 2009 they (ministry officials) said it was an accident . . . that he died from a slip and fall. We did an inquest and the jury found it was homicide,” he said.
Drysdale was awaiting a bail hearing on assault charges, shoplifting and breach of a court order in April 2009 when he was attacked by at least two inmates in the common area of a cellblock. A coroner’s jury later found Drysdale’s death was a homicide, the London Free Press reported.
Just over a year ago Adam Kargus, a 29-year-old petty thief, was killed in his cell. Three fellow inmates were charged, one of them with second-degree murder. And as a result of his death, five correctional officers and one manager at EMDC were fired last month.
Wynne told reporters at Queen’s Park said when it comes to the provincial jail “there are a lot fronts in which we need to work.”
“There is infrastructure that needs to be purchased and built — whether that’s security cameras or whether that’s new facilities. But there is also work that needs to be done in terms of reintegration of offenders into communities. One of the things that worries me is that over the years the capacity of the system to provide training and even literacy skills . . . have not been what I think they should be,” she said.
Naqvi said in a separate interview his ministry is planning to build facilities for inmates serving intermittent or weekend sentences.
“We are developing and starting to implement an intermittent strategy where those inmates are sentenced to just serve weekends, it does not make sense that we put them into the same broader inmate population. So we are now working on developing regional intermittent centres,” he said, noting the first one is to be built at the EMDC site.
New Democrat MPP and corrections critic Lisa Gretzky asked: “How many more deaths will it take at EMDC for Premier Wynne to take action to finally resolve the ongoing problems at the London facility?”
“The situation at EMDC continues to get worse and instead of correcting the problem,” she said.
“When is this government going to stop its mismanagement of Ontario’s corrections facilities and finally ensure the safety of staff and inmates?”