Nova Scotia

Public must know what happened to Matthew Hines: public safety minister

The public deserves to know why Matthew Hines was beaten and repeatedly pepper sprayed by prison guards before his death in 2015, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday.

Public Safety Minister says case of beaten, pepper sprayed inmate must be 'transparently investigated'

Matthew Hines begged for help before taking his final breath at Dorchester Penitentiary. He was pronounced dead on May 27, 2015. (CBC)

The public deserves to know why Matthew Hines was beaten and repeatedly pepper sprayed by prison guards before his death in 2015, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday.

A board of investigation report into Hines's death found that correctional officers inside New Brunswick's Dorchester Penitentiary used "inappropriate" force on Hines, a 33-year-old man from Cape Breton.

The details of Hines's death were publicly revealed on Monday, when CBC News reported how he was pepper sprayed in the face five times, after he refused to return to his cell.

'Thoroughly and transparently investigated'

In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Goodale said he can't comment "on the specifics" of Hines's death because it's still under investigation by Correctional Service Canada (CSC).

"But let me be clear that there can be no tolerance for inappropriate use of force or other serious misconduct," he said in the statement.

"Correctional staff have difficult jobs, but any allegation of inappropriate behavior must be thoroughly and transparently investigated, and the appropriate consequences must follow."

Matthew Hines died in custody of the Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. (CBC)

'They deserve answers'

Hines' sisters have said they felt misled about how their brother died, saying CSC officials initially told them Hines died from a seizure.

An autopsy report later found that Hines likely died from a lack of oxygen, caused by the pepper spray.

Even though 15 months have passed since his death, Hines's family is still waiting to see a New Brunswick coroner's report that may offer more concrete explanation about what caused the man's death.

"They deserve our compassion and they deserve answers," Goodale said about Hines's family.

Matthew Hines died while in custody of the Dorchester Penitentiary on May 27, 2015. His family has learned that he may have died from lack of oxygen after being pepper sprayed by guards five times. (CBC)

'Concrete steps' not specific

Correctional Service Canada has declined multiple requests from CBC News for interviews about Hines's death. Officials say privacy legislation prevents them from discussing the case.

An unsigned statement posted to the agency's website on Wednesday said CSC is taking "concrete steps to address the circumstances surrounding [Hines's] death," but did not provide specific examples.

The correctional agency also hasn't explained why some of the initial information it released about Hines's death was incorrect.

No explanation for wrong information

The press release issued a day after Hines's death said he was "found in need of medical attention" and staff "immediately" performed CPR on him.

But the internal report given to Hines's family shows that correctional staff were with Hines throughout the incident.

It also reveals that a nurse at the prison "appeared to have conducted no assessments...nor conducted any treatment (contrary to her documentation), which was not in accordance with policy."

Asked to explain why it reported incorrect information, CSC spokeswoman Laura Cummings said the agency reported the information "as it was available at the time."

"As noted, the investigation process resulted in more detailed understanding of the events that transpired," Cummings said in an email.

She did not say where the incorrect information came from.

Less than two hours

Hines was pronounced dead in hospital less than two hours after his struggle with guards began.

Much of that appears to be captured on handheld video by correctional staff, but CSC declined to release copies of the videos to CBC News.

The force used against Hines caught the eye of Canada's correctional investigator, who is waiting for a coroner's report before launching his own investigation.

About the Author

Karissa Donkin is a journalist in CBC's Atlantic investigative unit. Do you have a story you want us to investigate? Send your tips to NBInvestigates@CBC.ca.