Families of inmates who died at London, Ont. jail say 'enough is enough'

Thirteen crosses have been pierced into the front grounds of London’s Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) in honour of the 13 inmates who have died at the provincial jail in the last decade.

Thirteen inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre have died in the last decade

More than 50 people gathered at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre on Sunday. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Thirteen crosses have been put up near London's Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) in honour of 13 inmates who have died at the provincial jail in the last decade.

The circumstances around many of their deaths remain unclear. Some were murdered, some died from overdoses and others by suicide.

And now their families want answers from the Ministry of Correctional Services through an unprecedented show of protest at the place in which they all died.

"Enough is enough," said Jan Pigeau, who wore a shirt that read "EMDC killed my son."

Her son James was found dead in his cell in January. The 32-year-old was awaiting trial on charges of robbery and theft.

"I'm not alone. These families are not alone. We're going to speak as one voice and we're going to get changes made. This is just the beginning."

13 crosses have been pierced into the front grounds of the jail in honour of the 13 inmates who have died at the provincial jail in the last decade. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

More than 50 people and six affected families gathered on Sunday to represent the 13 people that died at the jail, a correctional facility that has one of the highest numbers of inmate deaths in Ontario. 

Class-action lawsuit

Many of the affected families are familiar with London lawyer Kevin Egan who represents thousands of current and former inmates of EMDC in a certified class-action lawsuit against the province.

He said they are victims of the violent atmosphere of the jail, dubbed "the devil's playground."

"This is to have everyone get together and realize they're not alone and that it's happened to other people and hopefully together we will have a voice," he said at the rally.

Chippewas of the Thames First Nation Chief Myeengun Henry leads a ceremony at the memorial of the 13 inmates. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

He'll continue to support the families who plan to take their concerns to Queens Park this summer.  

Last summer, a regional coroner called a joint inquest into two deaths of inmates including Floyd Deleary, who was from the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.

Chief Myeengun Henry said many inmates from marginalized communities could face additional hurdles.

"There's still racism," he said. "It's obvious that something needs to be done. Aboriginal people have the highest incarceration rate in Canada. When we see injustices, no inquires, recommendations not acted done then I need to talk about this."

'I feel for the people on the inside'

Among the 13 crosses stands one pink cross with the name "Laura Straughan" etched on it. The other 12 inmates were men.

The 25-year-old woman died in 2009 of complications from the flu that her family said went untreated.

Affected families carry signs and wear shirts in memory of loved ones. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

"There's no accountability here … They're treating people [on the inside] worse than they would animals," said Straughan's mom Susan Duval.

"And I feel for the people on the inside … and the correctional officers … I understand they're not properly equipped. There's a bullying system within their own [system] and it needs to be addressed."

"There's no reason for this. We have to stand united and make noise and make awareness until … changes are made. People should not be dying," added Deb Abrams.

Her son Adam Kargus was beaten to death by his cellmate in 2013 in an alcohol and drug-fuelled frenzy.

Deb Abrams, left, carries pictures of her son Adam Kargus. He was beaten to death by his cellmate in 2013 in an alcohol and drug-fuelled frenzy. (Hala Ghonaim/CBC)

Inmates remembered: 

  • Laura Straughan died in 2009
  • Randy Drysdale died in 2009
  • Adam Kargus died in 2013
  • Keith Patterson died in 2014
  • Jamie High died in 2014
  • Floyd Deleary died in 2015
  • Justin Thompson died in 2016
  • Raymond G. Major died in 2017
  • Mike Fall died in 2017
  • Murray Davis died in 2017
  • Ron Jenkins died in 2017
  • Justin Struthers died in 2017
  • James Pigeau died in 2018