A year after receiving inmate's ashes in the mail, Ottawa family wants answers

On the heels of a damning report by Canada's prison watchdog on how Correctional Service Canada deals with the families of inmates, an Ottawa man says he didn't learn of his brother's death in an Alberta prison until after he was cremated.

Martin Pinkus died in January 2015; family wasn't informed until ashes arrived a month later

Joel Pinkus holds a box containing the ashes of his brother, Martin Pinkus, which was mailed to their mother in North Gower, Ont., in February 2015. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

On the heels of a damning report by Canada's prison watchdog on how Correctional Service Canada deals with families when an inmate dies, an Ottawa man says he didn't learn of his brother's death in an Alberta prison until after he was cremated. 

Joel Pinkus says in February 2015, his mother received a package at her North Gower, Ont., home, located about 40 kilometres outside Ottawa, containing the cremated remains of his brother Martin Pinkus, who was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder at a federal prison in Drumheller, Alta.

"I got a box of his cremated ashes, and that's it. There was no answers, no nothing," Joel Pinkus said in an interview at his Ottawa home. "It's been what, over a year and a half since that happened, and they still haven't sent any letters saying what happened."

Martin Pinkus was serving a life sentence for second-degree murder in the 1995 killing of a gas station worker in Gloucester, Ont. (Supplied)

Martin Pinkus, who was convicted in the 1995 killing of gas station attendant Danny Jones in Gloucester, Ont., died in his prison cell in January 2015 at age 47, eight months away from parole eligibility.

In his search for answers, Joel Pinkus has learned little from corrections officials.

"They said suicide, but we don't know what kind of suicide. Did he hang himself? Did he poison himself? We don't know any of that. They never gave us any information," he said.

'Need to hit the reset button'

Joel Pinkus came forward after learning last week of the Office of the Correctional Investigator's report into how the correctional service communicates with next of kin following an inmate's death in prison. It found the federal agency has not been compassionate, open or transparent with families.

The report, by the OCI's Howard Sapers, references a similar case where a family member arrived to view the body of an inmate who died, but was informed it had already been cremated, and the remains were sent by courier to him without notice.

Reached by phone late Friday, Sapers couldn't comment specifically on the Pinkus case, but he said the details reflect the wider problems in corrections that are outlined in his report.

"Up until we did this investigation, those facts I would have found shocking," Sapers said. "But subsequent to this investigation, I'm no longer shocked because we've found evidence of that kind of experience. It speaks to the need to hit the reset button on how CSC deals with next of kin of offenders."

Family wanted proper funeral

In an emailed statement, a CSC spokesperson said the agency can't provide details about any specific offender under Canada's privacy legislation.

"We recognize that the death of a family member is an extremely challenging time, often made more difficult when he or she has been incarcerated away from home," the statement reads. "CSC's goal is to ensure we are communicating with the families of offenders following a death in a clear, transparent and empathetic way, and we welcome the OCI's recommendations to help us improve these practices."

Martin Pinkus died in prison in Drumheller, Alta., in January 2015. His cremated remains were sent to his mother a month later. (Waubgeshig Rice/CBC)

Because they weren't consulted about the cremation, Joel Pinkus says his family didn't have the opportunity to give his brother a proper funeral at home in Ottawa, which he wishes they could have done. His mother is now hospitalized and suffering from dementia.

"I'm just hoping that maybe they can change the system in jails," he said.

"Maybe there's other people out there that'd like to know how their sons died or their daughters died. It's terrible. There's no information. You do something wrong, you go to prison. But if you go to prison, you should still have some kind of human rights."