'Absolutely heartbreaking': Vigil organizer says deaths in custody preventable

Cecil James’ sister, Kinew, died at the psychiatric centre in Saskatoon in 2013. He is helping to organize a vigil for two other people who died in custody in Winnipeg recently.

Cecil James’ sister, Kinew, died at a psychiatric centre in Saskatoon in 2013

Cecil James is helping to organize a vigil in Winnipeg three years after his sister, Kinew, died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre. (Cecil James/Submitted to CBC)

Cecil James will never forget the phone call that changed his family's life forever.

His sister Kinew James died at the Regional Psychiatric Centre in Saskatoon after a nurse took too long to call a Code Blue after finding her unresponsive late one January night in 2013.

"That call was absolutely heartbreaking because we had conversation of what plans, of what she would do once she got out," he said, adding his sister was expected to be released in August 2013.

James said that's why he was so eager to help throw a vigil and rally on Saturday for Bradley Errol Green and Hollie Hall who died at the Winnipeg Remand Centre.

(Left) Bradley Errol Green died at the Winnipeg Remand Centre on May 1 and Hollie Hall died there in March. (Courtesy of Rochelle Pranteau/Gerri Hall)

Green, 26, experienced two epileptic seizures while in custody at the centre on May 1. He later died.

Hall died after contracting influenza or a flu-like illness while in custody in March. 

"I'm there for the families, I can relate to what these people have gone through," said James.

"Nobody expects a call in general from people saying your loved one's passed away, but it's definitely shocking when they're supposed to be in a safe environment."

He added, "These are preventable deaths. People go in with pre-existing medical conditions and just because they're incarcerated, they shouldn't be denied proper medical care."

James said prominent Indigenous leaders in Manitoba and all members of the public were encouraged to come to Saturday's rally.

Many of those who came were there to demand an inquest into the deaths of both Green and Hall. An inquest is continuing into James' sister's death, he said.

"We're still waiting for answers three years later, so this family will need the support. I'm glad the leadership has stepped up to support this family," he said.

At a past vigil for Green, James met his younger brother Braydon.

"He's a very strong young man. I wish I could've met him outside of this situation," he said, adding Braydon volunteers with Bear Clan and Drag the Red.

"To be still out in the community doing what he can for the community and going through what he's going through, he's a strong young man and I'm just very impressed by him and I'm glad to have met him," he said.

'This has to stop'

At the rally on Saturday, James reflected on the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry, which took place years ago, yet, he said, he and others are still fighting for justice for Canada's Indigenous Peoples and prisoners in general.

"This has to stop," he said.

"I know what a tough shock it is to get that phone call. People should keep these families in their prayers, they're going to be in a long fight for justice here."

James said he plans to continue to support Green and Hall's family in the years to come, and hopes others in Manitoba join him.