Ontario's solicitor general visits London jail to meet with guards after biker protests
Sylvia Jones's visit comes weeks after death of another inmate
Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones met with staff at London's troubled Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre on Thursday, in the wake of the death a month ago of an inmate after spending one night in the jail.
The death prompted a large protest that included members of the Hells Angels.
Jones didn't tell family members of the 19 people who have died at the jail since 2009, or the media, that she would be visiting the Exeter Road facility. There have been protests almost nightly since July 6, when Brandon (Bam Bam) Marchant, 32, died after being taken off life-support.
"The daily protests over the past number of weeks have been challenging for staff at the facility, and I want to thank them for their professionalism and ongoing commitment to community safety," Jones wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News.
Ministry officials have been "engaging with local justice partners to ensure the continued safety of both staff and inmates, while respecting the right of Ontarians to peacefully protest," Jones said, without elaborating on the identities of the local justice partners.
CBC News has requested more information about Jones's visit, which was requested by the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents jail guards, who say they've felt threatened after Marchant's death.
Marchant has family members with ties to the Hells Angels, an outlaw motorcycle club.
'They picked on the wrong person'
Jones's emailed statement also expressed sympathy "to the families who are grieving the loss of loved ones or are waiting for the details offered through death investigations."
But Judy Struthers, whose son Justin died at the jail in 2017, called the solicitor general's visit "cowardly."
"She doesn't have the nerve to talk to me or my husband. She has never, ever reached out to any of us families," Struthers said. "This last death was a terrible thing to have happened, but boy, they picked on the wrong person this time because people are paying attention."
Several inmates have claimed guards assaulted Marchant after a dispute over a towel, after he was brought in from hospital, where he was being treated for injuries sustained in a car crash. He was found unresponsive in his cell the next morning and died several days later in hospital, without ever having regained consciousness.
The guards reportedly remain on the job amid ongoing investigations into Marchant's death.
Marchant was the 19th person who's died at the jail since 2009.
"How does that happen? Nineteen deaths — how can you not think that something is wrong in there?" Struthers said. "As far as calling the guards professional, they're not. They tell us to F off — they give us the finger."
Struthers and her husband Glen go weekly to the jail to protest conditions and visit a memorial cross for their son. Those crosses were recently taken down after a tribunal ruled they negatively affected jail staff's mental health.
"They say they have stress? How about putting my shoes on, or the shoes of any one of us who have lost a loved on in there?" Struthers said.
"I'm very disappointed in Sylvie Jones. She should be replaced. There's been 19 deaths, she should have been in there long before this to figure out what was wrong and to talk to the inmates without the guards present about what's going on in there."
CBC News has reached out to the union representing corrections officers for a comment about Jones's visit.