Mother files complaint against Saskatoon police after being refused breast pump

Lillian Desjarlais says her treatment during her four day stay at the Saskatoon Police Service detention facility could have potentially harmed her four-month-old baby and herself.

'Every morning I would wake up soaked and the blanket would be soaked too,' says Lillian Desjarlais

Lillian Desjarlais has filed a complaint against the Saskatoon Police Service with allegations of misconduct while she was in custody. (Albert Coulliard/CBC)

A Saskatoon mother has filed a complaint against the city's police following allegations of misconduct while in police custody.

Lillian Desjarlais, 21, said her treatment during her 75-hour stay at the Saskatoon Police Service detention facility could have potentially harmed her four-month-old baby and herself.

Eventually, she said, her milk started turning this greenish colour.- Ammy Murray, lawyer

The breastfeeding mother was taken into custody early on Feb. 19 following a drunken physical altercation with her boyfriend. Desjarlais said she had called police and officers came to their residence and arrested both parents.

"This was my first time in jail so I don't know how I was supposed to be treated," said Desjarlais. "Being in there I thought that I deserved the way I was treated but now I figured out that it was not OK."

'It hurt a lot'

She said when she asked officers for a breast pump to express the buildup of breast milk, she was denied. Instead, she was left painfully leaking milk from her engorged breasts through her shirt, resorting to expressing the milk into a sink in the detention cell.

"It hurt a lot," said Desjarlais."I asked for breast pads and they just cut maxi pads in half for me, so I just used that the whole time."

"Every morning I would wake up soaked and the blanket would be soaked too."

Lillian Desjarlais talks about lack of breast pump in jail 0:31

During this time, Desjarlais said she was refused a phone call to check on her son, who was born prematurely. Desjarlais had been instructed by her doctors to breastfeed her son to help with his growth and brain development, a practice Health Canada recommends for the first six months of a baby's life.

She also wasn't able to see a justice of the peace until over 12 hours after she was taken into custody.

Her boyfriend later alleged that Desjarlais hit the baby, and she is now facing assault charges. 
Ammy Murray, Lillian Desjarlais' lawyer, says she hopes the Saskatoon Police Service and other law-enforcement agencies take this complaint seriously. (Albert Coulliard/CBC)

Complaint filed

With the help of her lawyer, Ammy Murray, Desjarlais submitted her complaint to the Public Complaints Commission on Monday.

She said over the period of 75 hours, her treatment was considered misconduct, according to the Saskatchewan Police Commission's policy manual.

There are six allegations in her complaint, including:

  1. Failure to provide a breast pump to allow her to express breast milk.
  2. Failure to provide a clean, dry shirt.
  3. Failure to ensure she did not require medical attention regarding potential development of mastitis or any other complications related to not being able to breastfeed or pump her breast milk.
  4. Failure to allow her to breastfeed or provide expressed milk to her son.
  5. Failure to allow her to phone and determine the safety of her son.
  6. Failure and breach of duty to bring her before a provincial court judge or justice of the peace in a timely fashion.

In her complaint, Desjarlais talks about being a "21-year-old aboriginal mother." 

"Despite the challenges I have faced growing up, I have worked hard to be independent and support myself and my son," the complaint reads. 

Murray added, "For four days she's in a soaking wet shirt, she's cold, she doesn't have access to a breast pump, [and] she's engorged. Eventually, she said, her milk started turning this greenish colour."

Police duty emphasized

She said that the basis of the complaint deals with the duty of police officers to make sure that no one in custody needs medical attention.

"There's a duty on police officers when they're making their rounds and when they're making their checks to make sure that you're doing OK, that you don't need anything, that you're not in medical distress, [and] that your dignity is intact," Murray added.  

"I don't know how you can argue that hand-expressing milk into a sink with a Plexiglas front, baring your breasts, and being given maxi pads and not given a change of clothes for four days — I don't know how you can argue that that's respecting somebody's dignity."

Murray said it's an issue that the Saskatoon Police Service and other law-enforcement agencies should take seriously because this is not the first time she's come across a case like Desjarlais'.

"Incarcerated mothers who wish to continue nursing their children have a very difficult time accessing pumps [and] they have a very difficult time with milk storage," she said. "Even when pumps and milk storage is facilitated, they have a very difficult time getting the pumps in their cells when they need them."

'We do our best ... within reason'

Alyson Edwards, spokesperson for the Saskatoon Police Service, said the police have heard there was a complaint filed with the Public Complaints Commission, but the service is unable to comment on this specific case.  

"In our detention area, we routinely receive requests for things that people being detained may need," said Edwards.

"They may be in need of something specific and we do our best if we receive the request [or] if a staff member receives a request — we do our best to fulfil those needs within reason."        

She added that a justice of the peace has 24 hours to see a person when they are placed in detention.

Written with files from Omayra Issa