British Columbia

Grieving family frustrated over lack of information on inmate's apparent overdose death

Taylor John Brazier died in custody on Sept. 11. His family was told that the 26-year-old was found in his cell at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C., around 10:30 a.m. That's about all they know.

Beyond 'accidental overdose,' family say they've been given few details about how Taylor Brazier died

Taylor John Brazier, right, towers over his sister Jordan, left, and mother, Lori Dent, in a photo during happier times. (Submitted by Jordan Brazier)

Taylor John Brazier died in custody on Sept. 11.

His family was told that the 26-year-old was found unresponsive in his cell at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C., around 10:30 a.m. PT.

The Ottawa police officers who delivered the news to Brazier's sister in Carp, Ont., that night used the words "accidental overdose."

But that's about all the family knows.

Jordan Brazier, 28, is now left trying to comfort a mourning mother while trying to seek more details about her brother's death.

"They were very close. It's never easy to lose a kid, even when you brace yourself for it," said Brazier. 

His mother, Lori Dent, who lives near Sydney, Australia, said, "My son was not an innocent young man by any means, but I honestly thought that if he was going to die, it wouldn't be inside, where I thought he was safer." 

Although Brazier has been told an autopsy is complete and toxicology tests on her brother's blood have been ordered, she's been left frustrated by the lack of information. She's confused why nobody from North Fraser Pretrial Centre called her and is demanding a copy of the autopsy report.

The BC Coroners' office has spoken to the family but can't say much until toxicology tests are completed.

There will be an autopsy done in this case, which is not always done in British Columbia for suspected overdoses.

When an inmate dies, families like Taylor Brazier's often initially face a wall of silence when they try to find out how and why. They get little help navigating the system to get answers until a formal report comes from the BC Coroners Service.

'He is a giant. He is one of the funniest people I know,' said Jordan Brazier, about her brother, who died in custody Sept. 11. (Jordan Brazier)

Spiking overdoses

Meanwhile, in-custody drug overdoses in Western Canadian jails and prisons are spiking, research shows.

"There is definitely an increase in overdoses," said University of Alberta criminology and sociology professor Kevin Haggerty, co-author of Fentanyl Behind Bars, which was published in 2019 in the International Journal of Drug Policy.

His team interviewed 600 inmates and staff as part of the Prison Project, a multi-year study into life experiences inside Western Canadian prisons. They were not allowed to identify the institutions or which province they were in.

Provincial public safety ministries do not release overdose statistics, but the U of A study estimated the average facility has up to nine overdoses per month.

"It's impossible to keep drugs out of prisons," said Haggerty.

He said the spike in fentanyl-related overdoses stresses correctional officers who fear a death on their shift, as well as inmates who dub the drug "Mr. Murder" and worry rival inmates will use the guise of fentanyl overdoses to cover up actual murders.

An aerial view of the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Port Coquitlam, B.C. (B.C. government )

'I want justice for my son'

Brazier has many questions about how her brother died: How long was he left alone? How long was he dead before he was found? 

"I was told he had an enlarged heart and an enlarged liver — but that was the gist of it," she said.

The lack of clarity has left her and her mother distraught about how their loved one was handled in custody.

"I want justice for my son and the many who have already passed," said Dent.

Jordan and Taylor Brazier play as kids. (Submitted by Jordan Brazier)

A spokesperson for BC Corrections declined to comment on Taylor Brazier's death, saying staff are limited to "health and public safety information" during an election. Questions to the Provincial Health Services Authority got the same reply.

Brazier said she has confirmed that there is financial help available to return her brother's body to Ontario.

'He had a handful of struggles from the very beginning'

Taylor Brazier was "no angel," according to his mother, and had a history of drug use and petty crime.

His father disappeared when he was about a year old, and he had been treated for ADHD and ADD.

"He had a handful of struggles from the very beginning," said his sister, who was close to her six-foot-six, 384-pound sibling.

"He is a giant. He is one of the funniest people that I know. He could laugh about the wildest situations that he's gotten into," she said. 

Taylor Brazier flips into a pool. His sister says he loved adrenaline and always made her laugh. (Submitted by Jordan Brazier)

Growing up, she said her brother was a natural athlete who loved to jump and flip off cliffs.

"Taylor was always an adrenaline seeker. He couldn't get enough," she said.

As a teen he turned to drugs and later was convicted of crimes, including theft and uttering threats.

His mother said despite his issues, her son deserved better.

"I feel an overdose inside, in a pandemic, during a lockdown where visitors are not allowed, leaves only the glaringly obvious conclusion that my son was killed by a sh---y and poorly run government institution," said Dent.

"Yes, they were criminals, and they were doing their time. Yes, many are drug affected with severe mental health issues. None of these are a reason to die locked up alone."

About the Author

Yvette Brend is a Vancouver journalist. Yvette.Brend@cbc.ca or on Twitter or Instagram @ybrend

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