EMDC inmate who died Sunday had been assaulted before

CBC News has learned the inmate who was found dead at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) Sunday has been identified as James Pigeau.

James Pigeau had alerted his lawyer about conditions at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre

James Pigeau is remembered as 'bright and articulate.' ((Facebook))

CBC News has learned the inmate who was found dead at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) Sunday has been identified as James Pigeau.

Pigeau was one of the witnesses to Adam Kargus' murder and had been part of a civil suit against the province. 

Pigeau's lawyer, Kevin Egan, said his client experienced anxiety and post-traumatic stress after witnessing the murder, even ending up in psychiatric care as a result.

Pigeau experienced multiple assaults, lawyer says

Pigeau also spoke with CBC's Fifth Estate as part of a documentary about the EMDC, and Egan said he can be seen in one frame being taken away from the facility in an ambulance.

At the time of the 2017 incident, Pigeau told Egan he had been assaulted by "a number of guards." Egan recalls seeing wounds on Pigeau's arms, including a large puncture wound that had turned septic. 

Since then, Egan learned that Pigeau had been assaulted by fellow inmates, and heard rumours that Pigeau needed to use a wheelchair as a result of his injuries. 

He said Pigeau had tried to contact him several times in the past week, but had been unable to get through. He wasn't sure what the matter was regarding. 

"I know that he was trying to reach me in the last week and it saddens me that I wasn't able to speak to him."

Egan remembers Pigeau as a "bright and articulate" man, who was close with his parents and committed to effecting change at EMDC. 

Supervision model lacking

The Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre does not yet have an operational body scanner. (Joseph Loiero/CBC)

Five people died at EMDC in 2017, including a 29-year old who was found in his cell Dec. 26.

There have been at least 10 deaths at the prison since 2009, including Kargas who was beaten to death in his cell by another inmate. 

"When people are dying on such a regular cycle here, there's obviously a problem with the supervision," said Egan.

He said EMDC needs to either build a new facility, or drastically change its supervision model.

A body scanner would also help the problem, said Egan, who added that he "wouldn't hold [his] breath waiting for it to show up."

Rick Nicholls, MPP for Chatham-Kent-Essex, agreed.

"The problem is, as I see it, drugs are still getting into the detention centre. I recall back in 2016 when [the Ministry] promised the state of the art body scanner and it still hasn't come in," he said.

"Had they acted upon the feel-good words that they were saying out there, I believe that a lot of deaths could have been prevented."

EMDC was scheduled to receive a full body scanner by the end of 2017.

In an email statement, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services said the device 'is expected to become operational in the coming weeks,' and that EMDC is using a scanner at the Elgin-Middlesex Regional Intermittent Centre in the meantime. 

Questions that remain

Pigeau's cause of death is still unknown. 

Egan said in addition to experiencing violence from guards and inmates, Pigeau had begun doing drugs in prison to cope with the boredom of being incarcerated.

"Whatever the cause of death, I think that it all points to systemic issues with that jail," he said.

Statement from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services

My sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of these individuals. I want the public to know that I take my responsibly to improve the conditions of our correctional system very seriously and that I will continue to take strong action to ensure the safety of our staff and inmates.

We have made a number of recent improvements at the EMDC, including installing over 300 new security cameras, building the Regional Intermittent Centre and implementing 24-hour nursing coverage for inmates with mental illnesses. We have also hired 91 additional correctional officers at EMDC since 2013 and we continue to recruit, train and deploy new officers across the province. 

In addition to the work already underway, we intend to introduce new legislation that, if passed, will reform correctional services in Ontario and help us improve conditions and outcomes for those in our custody and care.

-Marie France Lalonde, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services