Will Hamilton's jail death inquest bring change? Lawyer fears another 'toothless' response

A lawyer who has appeared at several inquests into the deaths of Ontario inmates says the massive examination of eight overdose deaths at Hamilton's jail may not produce the change family members hope for.

Families of 8 men who died at the jail are hoping they didn't die in vain

Lawyer Kevin Egan says the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services often ignores recommendations made as part of inquests into jail deaths in Ontario. (The Fifth Estate)

A lawyer who has appeared at several inquests into the deaths of Ontario inmates says the massive examination of eight overdose deaths at Hamilton's jail may not produce the change family members hope for.

After a six-week inquest, the jury provided a list of 62 recommendations for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services on Friday, and family members said they were hopeful the inquest would mean their loved ones didn't die in vain.

But Kevin Egan, who represented the family of one of the victims at the Hamilton inquest, said he has his doubts the government will listen.

"There was a certain level of euphoria after such extensive recommendations from the jury Friday," said the lawyer. "I really hate to burst anyone's bubble, but it may not mean anything.

There's no guarantee of any kind of meaningful response.- Kevin Egan, lawyer for Tykoliz family

Egan speaks from experience.

He said one of the recommendations — the need for real-time monitoring of surveillance cameras — was something he's seen suggested at two other inquests, first in 2011 and again in 2015. 

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services didn't end up adopting it in either case.

"They basically ignore [inquests] or feel no compulsion to respond," said Egan. "There's no guarantee of any kind of meaningful response."

In a statement to CBC News, ministry spokesperson Andrew Morrison rejected the lawyer's claim, writing, "Recommendations from inquests over the years have led to numerous positive steps in developing new policies and procedures."

Inmates openly used drugs

During the inquest, the jury heard how inmates, including Marty Tykoliz (Egan represented his family), openly snorted drugs off a table in a day room of the Barton Street jail. Video evidence also showed inmates using string as a "fishing line" to pass something between two cells over the course of several hours.

On Friday the jury called for better video equipment, including monitors and cameras that would be monitored by staff in "real-time" in order to detect "high-risk situations that involve the presence or use of contraband."

An exhibit from the jail death inquest shows inmates "fishing." (Fishing video exhibit)

The jury gave a deadline of six months for the changes to be in place.

Egan said he's been waiting for real-time monitoring in Ontario's jails since a 2011 inquest into the death of Kenneth Randall Drysdale who was killed at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC).

That was the first time Egan saw real-time monitoring as a recommendation.

Now it is time to make sure that these recommendations get implemented so that no more families have to go through what we're going through.- Glenroy Walton

During the 2015 inquest into the suicide Keith Patterson, another inmate at EMDC whose death was caught on camera, real-time monitoring was again recommended.

"The [ministry] basically ignores inquests or feels no compulsion to respond," said Egan. "There's no guarantee of any kind of meaningful response."

Ministry has already made changes

Morrison said the ministry already made several changes to the way things are done at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre during the inquest process, including making overdose-antidote naloxone available in all correctional facilities for suspected overdoses and setting up a dedicated team to search cells and collect information about contraband at the Hamilton jail.

"Coroner's inquests contribute to that ongoing work and the ministry carefully reviews jury inquest recommendations directed at the ministry and strive to implement changes to improve its policies," he added.

Here's a look at some of the other recommendations the ministry will consider:

  • Increased canine searches.
  • Upgrades to surveillance cameras and real-time monitoring of inmates. 
  • Creating inmate check lists and logs to track relevant information about health and history when it comes to contraband.
  • Reopening the jail's gym to inmates with four dedicated recreational officers.
  • Providing CPR training to interested inmates.
  • Click here to read the complete list. 

Family appeals to Andrea Horwath

Those types of changes are exactly what family members who lost loved ones at the jail said they were hoping for after the jury finished deliberating Friday.

"I'm sure we're all hoping these recommendations get taken seriously … I hope, please, please," begged April Tykoliz, Marty's sister, with her hands folded as if in prayer.

April Tykoliz, centre, wraps Cassandra and Glenroy Walton in a hug after a six-week inquest into the overdose deaths of their loved ones at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre ended on May 18. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

Glenroy Walton, whose son Julien also overdosed at the jail, had a similar message, but his was addressed directly to Andrea Horwath.

The Ontario NDP Leader actually called for a coroner's inquest into the death of William Acheson, an inmate at the Hamilton jail who died of heroin-poisoning in 2012.

"I pray Andrea Horwath is hearing this," said Walton.

"She visited the Barton jail and now it is time to make sure that these recommendations get implemented so that no more families have to go through what we're going through."

Despite the ministry maintaining inquests are important and the hopes and prayers of family members, Egan described the process as "toothless" and said the ministry "thumbs its nose" at new legislation that requires it to respond within six months of a jury's findings.

"What we're seeing is huge delays in responding at all," he said. "We have inquests that have occurred a year and a half ago and we still don't have any response from the ministr."


    Dan Taekema


    Dan Taekema is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. He has worked for CBC News in Hamilton, Windsor and Toronto and for newspapers across southern Ontario. You can reach him by emailing daniel.taekema@cbc.ca.