News / Winnipeg

Documents show two internal reviews completed in Winnipeg remand deaths

WINNIPEG — Five deaths this year at the Winnipeg Remand Centre are a sharp increase from previous years and internal reviews on two deaths have already been completed, documents obtained by The Canadian Press show.

But the reviews are being kept secret — part of a pattern that critics say has left families and the public in the dark.

"I believe Manitobans, and certainly the affected families, are looking for some kinds of answers from this government," NDP justice critic Andrew Swan said Thursday.

Documents obtained under the freedom-of-information law show there were only two deaths between 2010 and 2015 at the remand centre, which houses roughly 300 people.

There have been five deaths this year, including that of Errol Greene, 26.

His widow, Rochelle Pranteau, has said Greene was denied epilepsy medication in the days before his death and suffered a seizure. She has called for an inquest to find out exactly where and when he died.

"Even when information is released to families, it's released in a very heavily redacted form," said Corey Shefman, a human rights lawyer and board member of the Manitoba Association of Rights and Liberties.

The documents show internal operational reviews of two deaths were completed this year, but The Canadian Press was denied access to them.

The Justice Department cited exemptions under the freedom-of- information law, saying the documents contain personal health information of offenders as well as details about the facility.

The reports "contain sensitive security information, identify security weaknesses and contain recommendations," reads a letter from the department.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson acknowledged earlier this year that the number of deaths warranted a special investigation and she ordered a systemic review. That review is ongoing, Stefanson's press secretary said Thursday.

Stefanson declined an interview request.

To date, a number of possible reasons for the spike in deaths have been put forward. Swan said overcrowding is an issue. A legislature committee he sits on was told recently Manitoba's jail population has jumped by seven per cent since the spring.

There have been two deaths in total this year at Manitoba's six other adult jails.

The union that represents jail guards has cited a need for more resources to handle inmates with mental-health issues and who are addicted to hard drugs such as fentanyl.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, was not available for an interview.  

Shefman, Swan and others have called on Stefanson to order inquests into the deaths.

Public inquests conducted by a provincial court judge are mandatory when a death in custody stems from violence, negligence or something unexplained. There is discretion in other cases such as deaths due to medical conditions.

Shefman said only full inquests into each case — or a more expansive, system-wide public inquiry — would truly provide answers about what happened.

"Too often ... the families are treated as an afterthought."

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