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Manitobans deserve an inquest into Winnipeg Remand Centre deaths

We need answers to the five latest deaths at the Winnipeg Remand Centre, writes Shannon VanRaes.

Father of three Errol Greene and his son Darien is seen in this undated handout photo.

Father of three Errol Greene and his son Darien is seen in this undated handout photo.

Canada does not have the death penalty.

And yet, people are dying in custody — people presumed innocent, people awaiting trial, people who can't make bail. There have been five deaths reported at the Winnipeg Remand Centre in the last six months, four men and one woman.

Errol Greene was being held in custody on a mischief charge when he collapsed on the first of May while speaking to his wife on the phone. She was pregnant with the couple's fourth child at the time. He told her he'd been denied his epilepsy medication for three days in the lead up to his death.

The family has been given little to go on, other than the three different times of death reported so far and a disturbing autopsy report. Greene was 26-years-old.

Hollie Hall was at the Winnipeg Remand Centre after being accused of breaching a no contact order. About a month after her arrival she died of what's been called a "flu-like" illness. She was 38.

Robert McAdam, 53, died Sept. 6 after he was arrested for allegedly breaching a court order. He is believed to have drank antifreeze before arriving at remand and what, if any, medical treatment he received prior to being found unresponsive in his cell is unknown.

Russell Spence, 31, died in the second week of October after an alleged altercation while being processed at the centre. He had been brought in on a weapons charge and failing to comply with a court order.

Another unnamed Winnipeg Remand Centre inmate died last week.

It is as appalling as it is shocking.

If Manitobans were dropping dead at such a rate in other provincially run institutions, heads would roll, action would be taken and change would happen. But for some reason, Manitoba Justice doesn't seem that interested in the issue. Certainly there is no appetite among provincial officials for the inquest that families and human rights advocates are now calling for.

Did these five individuals — fathers, sisters, cousins, friends — die because of overcrowding? Because correctional staff are stretched so thin they can't possibly respond to all concerns? Is there a lack of training? Missing resources? Policy gaps?

Was it the result of misconduct? Systemic issues? 

Did these inmates die because of compassion fatigue? Did they die because correctional workers didn't see them as fully human, didn't see them as deserving attention and didn't take health concerns seriously? Were health issues ignored because of underlying prejudices?

Or were these deaths a string of unfortunate and unpreventable coincidences?

Without a public inquest we will never know.

When inmates die due to medical reasons, as opposed to violence, inquests are optional. And while internal reviews of the deaths are underway the results won't be made public — unless an inquest is called.

We need that inquest because we need answers. The public needs answers, the families need answers, Justice officials and correctional staff need answers.

And we need those answers before another life is lost – because you don't have to be innocent to be a victim.

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