Families of inmates who died in Ontario jails to protest outside Barton jail

People who lost loved ones at the Hamilton-Wentworth and Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centres are planning a rally outside the jail Saturday.

Ministry of corrections says it's committed to making sure jails are safe

April Tykoliz (right) is shown here with her brother Marty who died in hospital after an overdose inside the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre. April is planning to attend a protest outside the jail Saturday. (Facebook)

Saturday will mark the first time April Tykoliz and Amy McKechnie return to the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC) since their brothers overdosed behind its orange-brick walls.

Both women are expecting it to be a tough, emotional day. But compared to what their loved ones suffered, Tykoliz said she's willing to put up with the pain to protest and call for changes to the correctional system.

"I haven't been back there since I picked up my brother's clothes back in May 2014," she said.

"[But] I'm more concerned if I didn't do it, what I would feel personally. There are so many people that are hurting, there are so many people that have died since and it's so unnecessary."

It will be a hard day, but the women say they draw strength from the fact they won't be alone. Families and friends who lost loved ones at the HWDC and Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) will be joining them during the rally planned for Saturday at 2 p.m.

"I just want them to listen and take notice," explained McKechnie. "These are people too. This is Canada, we don't have the death penalty so why are they all dying? When are they going to actually stand up and do something to stop this?"

Amy McKechnie said she doubts inquests really make a difference. (Flora Pan/CBC)

In an email to CBC News, Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services spokesperson Brent Ross said the ministry is committed to addressing problems in Ontario's corrections system.

"The ministry's commitment is to ensure HWDC, and indeed all correctional institutions, are safe and professionally run," he wrote.

'What is the point of holding these inquests'

Judy Struthers, whose son Justin died at the EMDC in 2017 said changes need to be made "on both sides of the bars" for jails to become safer.

Justin Struthers died inside the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in 2017. (Judy Struthers/Facebook)

Her family protests outside the London jail every weekend and is planning to travel to Hamilton to take part in the rally this Saturday.

"We need to make the government aware we're uniting to get some changes made and answers and accountability," she said, adding guards need more training and mental health help should start in jail.

McKechnie's brother Ryan died in June 2017 after being held at the HWDC for about seven months.

The province announced back in July that there will be an inquest into his death, but McKechnie said the family still hasn't been told when it will happen. She also has her doubts that an inquest will really make a difference.

"It's sad to say … but what is the point of holding these inquests that cost a lot of money and take up people's time when it's not mandatory that the ministry implement any of them?" she asked.

"A lot of the recommendations that are being made are made over and over again and there's nothing being done. People are still dying."

Families plan to fight on

Tykoliz's brother's death from acute methadone toxicity was one of eight fatalities at the HWDC probed during a six-week inquest that resulted in 62 sweeping recommendations to make the jail safer.

Ten months later, they're still waiting to hear what, if any, changes will be made.

Ross said the ministry only received the jury's recommendations in November, meaning they're still in the process of reviewing them.

"The ministry will respond to the Office of the Chief Coroner in May," he wrote.

In the meantime, Tykoliz said, people are continuing to die in Ontario's jails.

"That's not good enough. We need safety for correctional people, staff, volunteers, the inmates, there are so many issues."

Tykoliz knows her brother is gone, but she doesn't think that mean her battle is over.

"I'm still fighting for my brother in a sense. The way I see it is I'm not fighting for his death, I'm fighting for his life. Changes were supposed to happen. They're meant to happen."