British Columbia

Coroners inquest into death of Christopher Roy reveals troubling details

Christopher Roy, 37, was placed in segregation at the Matsqui Prison in Abbotsford for 60 days where he hanged himself from a ligature from the ceiling of his small concrete cell.

Matsqui prisoner was in solitary confinement for 60 days where he hanged himself

Christopher Roy was 37-years-old when he died and left behind two daughters. His parents say they are shocked and have been living in a nightmare since his death.

On Monday, a jury heard disturbing details from witnesses about Christopher Roy's final days at the Matsqui Prison in Abbotsford last year.

The 37-year-old father was housed in a small concrete cell in solitary confinement for 60 days, up to 23 hours a day.

Christopher's father, Rob Roy, says the event has devastated the family, saying his son's death would have never happened if he were not put in segregation for so long.

"All I can say is that everybody who knows Chris, knows that he has never been a suicidal human being," Roy said from the Burnaby Coroner's Court. "We are in total shock and have been in the last year over this. It's been a total nightmare."

During questioning, institutional probation officer Derek Buckton broke into tears as he described Roy's time in the cell.

I really wanted him to have something that could take his mind off the anxiety he was experiencing.- Derek Buckton, institutional probation officer

"I really wanted him to have something that could take his mind off the anxiety he was experiencing," Buckton said, barely audible as he spoke through sobs.

Buckton said Roy was prohibited from reading or writing materials and said once he noticed Roy's mental health was deteriorating, he pleaded with his superiors to let Roy have a television set like other inmates. The request was denied. 

Buckton admitted that Roy had no idea when his segregation stint would end.

In his final days Roy had barricaded the door, and covered the window on it so guards couldn't look in. 

Buckton testified Roy also was sticking a broom through it and was clearly agitated. At the time Roy told Buckton he was desperate to be transferred to another prison and expressed paranoia.

Hanged himself with a ligature

When he returned to work after a weekend off after that incident, he found out that Roy had hanged himself with a ligature from the ceiling of the cell. He died on June 3, 2015. 

"I was totally flabbergasted, I was shocked," Buckton said. 

In March of last year Roy was placed in segregation after turning himself in to the RCMP in Mission, following a short release to the community in Victoria.

He had previously been in jail for a break and enter and breaching bail and probation conditions.

Witnesses spoke of Roy's battle with drugs and alcohol and said when he was released shortly, he was struggling with mental health issues — anxiety in particular — and had turned to opioids, methanphetamines and alcohol.

Christopher Roy was held in solitary confinement at the Matsqui prison for 60 days when he was found hanging by a ligature from his cell's ceiling.

Parole officer Tanya Thomas, a witness questioned at the coroner's inquest, said Roy had limited access to mental health and drug and alcohol programs in prison, and said she did not personally flag his issues or her concerns about his emotional state when he turned himself in.

She said it is often procedure to put an inmate into segregation when they turn them selves in after a breech. Administrative segregation, which Roy was placed in, is supposed to be used as a last resort for security or safety reasons or if an inmate requests it.

The BC Civil Liberties Association says over the last year, hundreds of inmates were held in similar conditions.

Constitutional challenge over use of solitary

In January, 2015, the BCCLA along with the John Howard Society of Canada filed a constitutional challenge against the Attorney General of Canada for its use of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.

Laura Track of the BCCLA was with the Roy family and their lawyer at the beginning of the inquest.

She pointed to two high profile cases where inmates died from being held in segregation for long periods of time: Ashley Smith and Edward Snowshoe.

"It's been two years since the report into the death of Ashley Smith, a young woman who also committed suicide while being held in solitary confinement, and just two weeks ago another woman died in the exact same institution as Ashley again after being held in solitary confinement," Track said from the Burnaby Coroner's Court.

The BCCLA's lawsuit alleges that the use of solitary confinement amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

"Here we are in 2016 and nothing has been done to change this practice," Track said.

The UN says that more than 15 consecutive days of solitary confinement amounts to a form of torture, while there is no limit on how much time an inmate can spend in administrative solitary confinement.

The B.C. Coroners Service is a fact-finding, not a fault-finding agency that provides an independent service to the family, community, government agencies and other organizations.


Angela Sterritt

CBC Reporter

Angela Sterritt is an ​award-winning investigative journalist. She is the host of Land Back, a six-part CBC British Columbia original podcast that uncovers land theft and land reclamation in Canada. Sterritt is known for her impactful journalism on the tensions between Indigenous people and institutions in Canada. She is a proud member of the Gitxsan Nation.