Nova Scotia

Veronica Park investigation didn't start until 4 months after prison death

Veronica Park's sister says she was told this week that the investigation into her death didn't begin until Aug. 17 — nearly four months after she died at a Nova Scotia prison — and wouldn't conclude until the end of the year.

Family calls Correctional Service Canada 'disconcerning' after learning report will take months

Veronica Park was serving a three-year sentence at the Nova Institution for Women in Truro, N.S., for robbery and breach of recognizance. (Facebook)

The family of a woman who died while in prison is shocked that the investigation into her death only began nearly four months after her death.

Veronica Park, who grew up in Corner Brook, N.L., was serving a three-year sentence at the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia when she was taken to hospital and died on April 24.

"Not one call came from Nova Institution to notify us that our sister what having any health problems or that she had just been hospitalized through a medical emergency," Marion Park, Veronica's sister, said Thursday.

She said the family was notified her sister was ill when they received a call from the anesthesiologist 20 minutes before Park died.

"We had hoped that Correctional Service Canada had already started the investigation into the cause of death when our sister started complaining with health problems while she was incarcerated," she said.

Kim Pate of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies says Veronica Park's family deserves answers, and shouldn't have to wait months for a report. (CBC)

But Park says she was told this week that the investigation into her death didn't begin until Aug. 17 and wouldn't conclude until the end of the year. She's questioning if the investigation was sparked by her own inquiries. The family has filed access to information requests to learn more about what happened.

Park says the family was then told that they had to make a choice — either receive what's known now, or wait until the full report is complete.

"We, of course like most families, want to know exactly what happened," she said.

CBC News has asked Correctional Service Canada why there was a delay in the start of the investigation but has not received a response.

'Outrageous' position

Park addressed the media by phone at a news conference hosted in Halifax by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies on Thursday morning. Kim Pate, the national director of the association, said the delay in any information for the family is unacceptable.

"What kind of a position is that to put a family in?" she asked. "When I saw what they were provided with, it's outrageous to essentially ask them, 'Do you want no information now or no information?'

"They're entitled to know what the cause of death of their loved one. It creates unnecessary stress to people who are already grieving."

Another inmate, Camille Strickland-Murphy, died at the Nova Institution for Women on July 28.

Park points out that Strickland-Murphy's family knew the cause of her death within days, and included it in her obituary.

"We're just wondering why her cause of death was released so quickly, and we're still waiting over three months later with not a word," she said.

Calls for change

Pate says this story is another example of why the justice system is failing women, specifically those with mental health issues.

She pointed to Ashley Smith, who died in October 2007 while in custody at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont. Her death sparked an inquiry.

"Prisons are not treatment centres," Pate said. "We should not have tragedies like we are hearing about today."

Pate says the public needs to speak out, especially during this federal election, and demand changes to Canada's corrections services.

"No party in this country has taken a progressive position on social justice and criminal justice issues. We encourage all Canadians, particularly in this region, in Nova Scotia, to demand that all parties clearly declare what their positions are."

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