Nova Scotia

N.S. hiding cause of Hyde's death: sister

The sister of a Nova Scotia man whose death in a jail cell prompted a public inquiry is accusing the Nova Scotia government of trying to hide the cause of Howard Hyde's death.

The sister of a Nova Scotia man whose death in a jail cell prompted a public inquiry is accusing the provincial government of trying to hide the cause of Howard Hyde's death.

Joanna Blair has written a scathing letter to Premier Darrell Dexter, saying she is "shocked and saddened" by the government's official response to the inquiry, released Thursday.

Blair's letter says the government has "failed" her brother and all Nova Scotians because its response is at odds with the inquiry's conclusion that Hyde's death was caused by a struggle with guards whose restraint techniques may have interfered with his breathing.

Instead, Blair says, the government's response revives a medical examiner's conclusion that Hyde died of a condition known as excited delirium due to paranoid schizophrenia — a controversial finding rejected by the head of the inquiry, provincial court judge Anne Derrick.

"This 52-page brochure ... succeeds only in propounding the use of the term 'excited delirium,"' Blair writes in the letter, released Friday.

"We requested the inquiry because we did not believe my brother died of the now renamed 'autonomic hyperarousal state."'

The government's response says the province has yet to clarify its guidelines for the use of stun weapons, saying a "clear understanding of how the use of conducted energy weapons may affect individuals in an autonomic hyperarousal state is needed."

A spokeswoman for Dexter confirmed his office received the letter, but the premier had yet to read it. 

Hyde not the culprit in death

In her inquiry report released in December, Derrick said she agreed with one expert who testified that citing excited delirium as a cause of death resulted in Hyde being "identified as the culprit."

"The only useful approach is to understand that Mr. Hyde died because of physiological changes in his body brought on by an intense struggle involving restraint," Derrick wrote. "He did not die because he was mentally ill."

She also said there is considerable controversy within the medical community as to whether excited delirium is a legitimate medical condition. 

The issue received considerable scrutiny during Derrick's 11-month inquiry, as it did during the public inquiry into the death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski, who died in October 2007 after he was hit with a stun weapon by a Mountie at Vancouver International Airport.

A subsequent independent report commissioned by the RCMP also criticized the use of the term, saying the condition is sometimes used as an excuse to justify firing stun guns.

RCMP restricted stun gun use

In February 2009, the RCMP restricted the use of stun guns to cases involving threats to officers or public safety, confirming that officers had previously been instructed to use the weapons to subdue suspects thought to be in a state of excited delirium.

That term no longer appears in RCMP operational manuals because the force has taken the position that its officers can't be expected to "diagnose conditions." 

In her letter, Blair also suggests it was wrong to describe her brother as mentally ill.

"That the government of Nova Scotia could attempt to mask the actual cause of death, restraint, and couch my brother's fate within the fabrication of the ignorant and unthinking terminology of 'mental illness' — a term he never agreed with — is  staggeringly disheartening."

During Derrick's inquiry, which wrapped up last June, the judge was told Hyde had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was in his 20s.