Ottawa

'Complete torture': Mentally ill man shouldn't have been in solitary, inquest told

The sister of a mentally ill man who died in hospital after hanging himself at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) told an inquest Monday that Cleve Geddes should have been sent to hospital, not solitary confinement.

Cleve 'Cas' Geddes died in hospital 2 days after hanging himself at Ottawa jail

Cleve 'Cas' Geddes struggled with schizophrenia for a decade before his death, his family said. (courtesy Sigrid Geddes)

The sister of a mentally ill man who died in hospital after hanging himself at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre (OCDC) told an inquest Monday that Cleve Geddes should have been sent to hospital, not solitary confinement.

"I don't understand how it can be an option for somebody in my brother's situation, for that person to be put into a jail," Sigrid Geddes told the jury during the first day of testimony at the inquest, which under Ontario's Coroners Act is mandatory when a death or injury causing death occurs in custody.

Her brother, called Cas by those who knew him, died Feb. 10, 2017, two days after being transferred to hospital from the Innes Road jail. He was 30.

A judge had initially ordered him to undergo a 30-day psychiatric assessment, but there were no beds available, so he was sent to OCDC instead, where he was kept in solitary confinement — a result Sigrid Geddes called "cruel" and "inhumane."

"It's 100 per cent cruelty to the human condition to lock a person up in a small room and leave them there by themselves," she told CBC outside Ottawa City Hall, where the inquest is taking place. "It's complete torture."

Cleve Geddes died in 2017 after he hung himself at the Ottawa jail. His sister, Sigrid Geddes, spoke out against solitary confinement, particularly for those with mental illness. 0:49

Grappling with schizophrenia

Her brother, the youngest of six siblings, had been grappling with schizophrenia for the better part of a decade, a diagnosis that was "like a death sentence" to him because their older brother suffered from the same disorder, Geddes said.

We lost him twice. My brother was an awesome person. He was a beautiful person.- Sigrid Geddes

"Since Cas's death almost two years ago, it's been very difficult," she said. "We lost him twice. My brother was an awesome person. He was a beautiful person."

Cleve Geddes was arrested in Killaloe, Ont., on Jan. 30, 2017, on a warrant issued after he failed to appear in court on charges of uttering threats and causing a disturbance.

Sigrid Geddes said her brother had talked about trying to get a job just days before ending up in jail. 

She said her efforts to reach him there went unanswered because no one in the family has a land line, the only way an inmate can call out collect.

"I called many times, I don't know if, I don't know if any of those messages got to him," she said. "It made us very angry and very sad and scared for Cas."

Donald Denning also testified at the inquest Monday, calling his son's death a 'tragedy.' (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Father also testified

Geddes's father, Donald Denning, also testified Monday, calling his son's death "a tragedy." Both he and his daughter said although Cleve Geddes struggled with his mental health and could become verbally aggressive, he never talked to them about harming himself.

The jury of four women and one man is tasked with determining the circumstances of Cleve Geddes's death, and make recommendations aimed at preventing a similar death in the future. 

Coroner Michael Wilson is presiding over the inquest, and lawyer Paul Champ is representing the Geddess family. 

The inquest is expected to last nine days and hear from 28 witnesses. It resumes Tuesday.


Need help? Here are some mental health resources in the National Capital Region:

Ottawa Suicide Prevention: 613-238-3311
Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.