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Ontario’s response to EMDC death inquest ‘insult’ to jury: lawyer

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Two years after an inquest into the deaths of two London inmates, the province has responded to 80 recommendations from a coroner’s jury.

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The attorney for the dead men’s families is unimpressed.

“They seem to echo their refrain, ‘Oh, it’s okay,'” Kevin Egan said Monday.

“Obviously, all is not well. We have a well-informed jury who have heard testimony about what is really going on. This is an insult to the jury that spent considerable time crafting these recommendations.

A key jury recommendation from the March 2020 inquest into the deaths of Floyd Deleary and Justin Thompson was that Ontario replace the aging and overcrowded Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center with a modern jail that can better protect and rehabilitate inmates.

The province’s response to that recommendation, buried in the middle of its 37-page response, was that it was building new prisons elsewhere.

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“The government has been clear in its commitment to supporting correctional services across the province. This includes a commitment to build new correctional facilities to serve the Thunder Bay and Eastern Region areas. The government is also investing $500 million over five years to transform corrections across the province through new hires and improved infrastructure,” the province said.

“That’s a no answer,” Egan said. “There is a problem with the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center and there is no indication that they will fix it.”

“We have a decaying infrastructure that was built for less than half of the current population. We have a dirty, overcrowded environment with poor plumbing and ventilation that is not addressed in any way,” he said.

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The answers come years after the two men died from a fentanyl overdose. Deleary, 39, died in August 2015; Thompson, 27, died in October 2017 while serving a 21-day sentence for breaching bail conditions.

The inquest heard that staff shortages in the summer of 2015 led to shortcuts in the proper dispensing of medication, security checks and record keeping.

A nurse and a corrections officer who examined Deleary an hour before he stopped breathing found nothing abnormal. Had he received medical intervention at the time, he could have been saved, according to the inquest.

Thompson died 14 months later after inmates in his unit concocted a drug smuggling operation through newly arrested inmates.

In view of EMDC video cameras, inmates smuggled drugs throughout the evening while fishing, tying bundles onto lines, and throwing the lines under cell doors.

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Surveillance video released during the inquest showed a correctional officer letting an inmate out of his cell and slipping a package under the door of another cell.

The inquest jury’s 80 recommendations focused on drug treatment, health care, supervision and prison culture.

Provincial ministries must respond to coroner’s inquest recommendations within six months of receiving them.

But even before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the province rarely met that deadline, and officials asked for more time to respond to that investigation.

In its response, the province said it was in the midst of several large-scale efforts to improve corrections across Ontario, including hiring staff.

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“These initiatives are helping to modernize and transform the way the department meets the needs of people in our care and custody, with a focus on improvements to reduce the risks and harms of contraband, mental health and addictions and training for front-enforcement personnel,” wrote Daryl Pitfield, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of the Solicitor General, Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.

But the province has rejected several EMDC-specific recommendations, including real-time monitoring of security cameras in inmates’ living areas, with better equipment to zoom in on suspicious incidents.

The province also rejected a suggestion for an infirmary at the EMDC, a recommendation often repeated in previous inmate death investigations.

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EMDC inmates have access to 24/7 nursing care, other medical services and, if necessary, can be transferred to detention facilities in Etobicoke, Milton or Windsor, said the province in its responses.

Many other recommendations made by the Deleary/Thompson inquest have surfaced in previous coroner’s inquests, such as better monitoring of inmates’ health.

The Deleary/Thompson Inquiry recommended that Ontario implement an electronic health records system to improve communications between EMDC staff about the treatment of ill inmates.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General is working to purchase and establish a centralized electronic record-keeping system, the province said in its response.

“If you look back in the surveys, they said the same thing,” Egan said. “For years and years and years they worked on it. It’s time to do something. »

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But Egan said he found some positives in the province’s responses, including a commitment to hire more nurses and mental health and addictions staff.

He also welcomed the commitment to expand direct observation units at EMDC, one of the recommendations of the inquiry.

The prison was designed so that correctional officers could not see into the rows where inmates live. After a pilot project at EMDC, direct observation stations for correctional officers will be placed throughout the prison, the province said.

Overall, however, Ontario’s responses will do little to change the nature and culture of the EMDC, where 19 inmates have died in the past 13 years and violence continues, said Egan said.

“Outside observers can see that this is not a rehabilitation and reintegration center,” he said. “It’s just a prison where people aren’t given the vehicle they need to be productive members of society.”

The government is not bound to accept any of the recommendations.

“The investigation system is really a paper tiger. The province can sidestep the issues or pretend they are already tackling the problem,” Egan said.

“So we will see it time and time again. We will see recommendations being made and the province will either ignore them or gloss over them or use government rhetoric to suggest that it is taking them very seriously.

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