Hamilton

'Complete negligence': Family in jailhouse drug death inquest looks for justice

With a long awaited, sweeping inquest into multiple overdose deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre set for early 2018, April Tykoliz is hoping finally get some answers, years after her brother died behind bars.
Marty Tykoliz (left) and his sister in better times. The 38-year-old Hamilton man died in hospital after a suspected overdose inside the Barton Street Jail in 2014. (Facebook)

With a long awaited, sweeping inquest into multiple overdose deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre set for early 2018, April Tykoliz is hoping finally get some answers, years after her brother died behind bars.

But both she and lawyer Kevin Egan, who is representing the Tykoliz family at the inquest, say these much-delayed proceedings are rife with complications and biases that make it difficult to make concrete change.

The coroner's office, for its part, says the wait was to ensure the proceedings explore the issue to its fullest extent, and dismisses accusations of bias. The inquest was originally announced in 2015, but a start date of January 2018 for the six-week proceedings wasn't announced until yesterday.

​"The wait has been atrocious," Tykoliz said. "There's been no closure. Nothing has been fixed.

"I just want to make some change within the system. Nothing is going to bring my brother back."

Her brother, Marty Tykoliz, is one of eight men who overdosed and died at the Barton Street jail between 2012 and 2016. Tykoliz actually overdosed twice, as he was was taken to hospital before being brought back to the jail, where he overdosed again and died.

Since the inquest has been announced, two more men have died inside the detention centre.

The other people included in the inquest are Louis Angelo Unelli, William Acheson, Stephen Conrad Neeson, David Michael Gillan, Trevor Ronald Burke, Julien Chavaun Walton, and Peter Michael McNelis. (Jeff Green/CBC)

Inquests are designed to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. A jury can recommend procedures for governing bodies to adhere to, though they're under no obligation to do so.

This is a drug a problem that isn't confined to the corrections system. People in Hamilton are dying from opioid overdoses at a rate of four a month, as an opioid epidemic clutches the entire country. There were 24 opioid overdose deaths in Hamilton in the first half of last year alone.

Fox is 'looking after the henhouse,' lawyer says

Egan says there is a "perception of bias" that exists when it comes to jail death inquests, as the agency being examined, the Ministry of Community and Safety and Correctional Services, is also the arm that oversees the coroner's office, which is conducting the investigation.

"There's an appearance of bias that needs to be addressed," he said, adding that some sort of "arm's length agency" performing an inquest would be better suited.

"That makes more sense than the fox looking after the henhouse."

Egan is also representing the family in a lawsuit filed against the province and Hamilton Health Sciences, which was filed last year.

The lawyer also took issue with the length of time it has taken to get the inquest officially underway.

"If they really wanted to prevent deaths, they would have moved as quickly as possible," he said. "I expect this is going to be a cursory look at the problem, with no real consequence."

Preperations caused delay, chief coroner says

Provincial chief coroner Dirk Huyer told CBC News that preparing for an inquest of this scope takes a significant amount of time.

"There's a number of challenges to conduct the appropriate investigation into each of these deaths," he said, ranging from logistics like finding a venue, to booking expert witnesses and conducting several investigations. "Preparing all of that takes a fair amount of time," Huyer said.

Huyer also said that it is indeed possible for the coroner's office to properly investigate its governing body, and cited dozens of recommendations that have risen from inquests like this one, aimed at different branches of government.

"We've directed many recommendations to the Ministry of Corrections and Community safety," he said. "I take my responsibility as the administrator of the coroner's act very seriously.

"I hear the criticism, but I don't agree with the criticism."

The inquest will begin in January 2018 and will hear from approximately 100 witnesses over 30 days.

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

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Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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