Human rights lawyer calls for public inquiry after 5 inmate deaths

Winnipeg lawyer Corey Shefman says the province should be obligated to report inmate deaths to the public. The province says it only has to report the death to the family.

'This is a crisis,' says lawyer Corey Shefman of 5 deaths in 8 months at the Winnipeg Remand Centre

5 deaths in 8 months connected to Winnipeg Remand Centre2

6 years ago
Duration 1:43
Another inmate has died after a stint in the Winnipeg Remand Centre — the fifth such case since March.

A human rights lawyer is calling for a public inquiry into five deaths in eight months at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

"This is a crisis at this point and we need real action," said Corey Shefman. 

​Shefman said he thinks a public inquiry is necessary because it would take a wider look at the corrections system in Manitoba.

"What we're starting to see is a really disturbing pattern that there's a systematic lack of concern for the lives of these individuals," he said.

Top L to R: Hollie Hall died in March, Errol Green in May, (Bottom L to R) Robert McAdam died in September, Russell Spence on Oct 12 and an unknown man died on Oct 25. (CBC News)

An inquest into each death is not a guarantee and it can take years for one to be called.

Under the The Fatality Inquiries Act, an inquest is mandatory when an inmate dies "as a result of a violent act, undue means or negligence or in an unexpected or unexplained manner or suddenly of unknown cause." It is still up to the Chief Medical Examiner to make that call.

Shefman said he worries no inquests will be called in the five remand deaths because in each case the province said the person died in hospital, not inside of the remand centre.

"That is a very intentional use of language," Shefman said. "It's not like the [inmates] could've gotten up out of the hospital bed and walked out, they were still in custody even when they were in the hospital."

He said he represented a family in the past whose son died while in custody. He said no inquest was called for that very reason.

There has been no inquest called for Hollie Hall, who died in March, or Errol Greene, who died in May.

Corey Shefman, a human rights lawyer, says a public inquiry is needed after five deaths in seven months at the Winnipeg Remand Centre. (Karen Pauls )

Shefman said the province should be obligated to notify the public when a person dies in custody. Right now that is not the case. 

"All deaths in custody are reported to the appropriate police agencies," said a provincial spokesperson. "In situations where an assault or similar incident may have led to the death, that information would be released by the investigating police agency."

The province said it only notifies the family because of privacy and personal health laws.

"For the government to simply not tell anyone that people are dying in prison is outrageous and it reeks of attempts to hide from the truth," said Shefman.


Jillian Taylor

CBC Reporter

Jillian Taylor has been with CBC Manitoba since 2012 and has been working as a journalist for nearly 15 years. She was born and raised in Manitoba and is a member of the Fisher River Cree Nation. In 2014, she was awarded the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's travel bursary, which took her to Australia to work with Indigenous journalists. Find her on Twitter: @JillianLTaylor