A federal inmate from the Northwest Territories who served time in Manitoba and Alberta committed suicide in 2010 after spending 162 consecutive days in segregation, with corrections officers unaware he had tried to end his life before, an inquiry has found.
The Alberta fatality inquiry conducted earlier this year found 24-year-old Edward Snowshoe, who was from Fort McPherson, N.W.T., "fell through the cracks," and that none of the corrections staff was aware of how long he had been in segregation, "even though that information was readily available."
"If a dog owner had a dog locked up for that long, that owner would be charged for animal cruelty," says his mother, Effie Bella Snowshoe.
One of the 12 recommendations in an inquiry report released in June aims to address the fact corrections officers in Edmonton didn't know certain things about her son, including that he had attempted suicide three other times, between 2007 and 2009.
Federal penitentiaries use an electronic records system, and the suicide attempts were flagged in his record, but Edmonton corrections officers didn't know about them.
The recommendation calls for written transfer reports to be used for prisoners with health or mental-health issues to ensure staff are aware of them.
Snowshoe was convicted in 2007 for shooting and injuring a cab driver in Inuvik during an armed robbery, and sentenced to five years in a federal prison.
The territory has no federal corrections facilities, so Snowshoe was sent to the Stony Mountain medium-security facility in Manitoba.
In March 2010, he was put in segregation — with no access to the general population — after brandishing a knife made from a juice box. That July, he was transferred to Edmonton Institution, a maximum-security facility, where he remained in segregation until his death in August 2010.
His cell in Edmonton had a single observation point through a mail slot.
Previous attempts at ending his life
The report notes Snowshoe had made a request as soon as he arrived in Edmonton to be moved back into general population. This request went missing and was found in November 2010 among unrelated documents.
Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society of Canada, says the average stay of an inmate in segregation is 30 days, though much longer stays are not uncommon. But in Snowshoe's case, "there are real questions as to whether it was appropriate for him to be in administrative segregation in the first place," she said.
"Conditions like anxiety and depression are worsened and it kind of breaks down the barrier between the unconscious and the conscious mind so people do hallucinate. If you had an underlying mental health condition before being subjected to that kind of sensory deprivation, it would be a lot worse."
The fatality report recommends a review of security classifications, posing the question: "How does a juice box knife end up with 162 days in segregation?"
It also recommends full observation cells be used where there is a history of suicide attempts.