Officer arrests at Barton jail 'good but small' step, overdose victims' families say

Families and a lawyer of some apparent overdose victims say the arrests are a sign of progress but won't be a solution to the larger problem within the justice system.

Investigators from Hamilton police meet with officials from the Barton jail weekly ever since the inquest

The Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre is shown on May 23, 2019. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Hamilton police and officials at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre have been meeting weekly for the past six months after an inquest into the overdose crisis inside the jail on Barton Street.

Supt. Paul Hamilton from Hamilton Police Investigative Services told CBC News the half-year of investigation between the two groups is progresses toward eradicating the smuggling of drugs into the facility.

"Where there's a demand, there's always going to be people trying to find a way to beat the system, but our goal is to continue sharing information to thwart those attempts," he said.

This comes after police arrested two correctional officers on Friday for allegedly sneaking cannabis into the building for inmates.

"One [arrest] was a result of the institution becoming aware of the information and the second was a result information exchanged between us and the institution and us starting an investigation," Hamilton said.

While these officers are accused of bring in cannabis — and not the opioids that normally cause overdoses — it's a still being viewed as progress.

The inquest, with 62 recommendations, came after at least 20 potential overdoses in 2019. At least 16 inmates have died since 2010.

Correctional system 'an embarrassment'

Amy McKechnie knows nothing will ever get her brother McKechnie his life back, but hopes the arrests become a trend.

"It's about time they start holding [the guards] accountable ... have they given any thought to the pain that we, the families, have had to go through with losing our loved ones," Amy said.

"Nobody wants to believe there are corrupt guards even when it's been proven and these [inmates] are in there for rehabilitation but these guards are feeding their addiction."

Angela Case, Amy McKechnie and Tamara Bowley stand hold up crosses memorializing inmates who have died at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre before they were hammered into place Sunday. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Kevin Egan, a lawyer who represented the family of the late Marty Tykoliz during the inquest, said he wasn't surprised to hear that correctional officers may have been peddling drugs. Families of victims weren't surprised either according to Egan.

But he said the arrests are just the surface of a much deeper, messier problem.

"The reason there's a market in there is that there's nothing else to do. There are no programs, there's not rehabilitative initiatives present ... there needs to be greater education about addiction and identifying the effects of opioids and causes of people being involved in them," he explained.

"The present state of our correctional system is an embarrassment to every Canadian. We've taken a medieval approach to crime and punishment and despite all the evidence that it doesn't work, we're running it the same way.  We're wasting taxpayer money, we're ruining people's lives and somehow, somewhere, some common sense has to prevail."

The ministry of the solicitor general and the union representing the correctional officers declined to comment.


Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca