Jail where Breanna Kannick died now has opioid withdrawal policy, jury hears

An inquest heard that the White Birch Remand Unit, the place Breanna Kannick was held in custody before she died in 2015, now has an opioid withdrawal policy in place.

Spokesperson says timing was coincidental, room for more improvements

Breanna Kannick was brought into custody for failing to appear in court on drug possession charges. She was unresponsive in her cell. (Breanna Kannick/Instagram)

The jail where 21-year-old Breanna Kannick died now has a policy to deal with opioid withdrawal. 

The protocol came into effect Monday and applies to the province's jails for women, which are White Birch Remand Unit and Pine Grove Correctional Centre.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Drew Wilby said on Monday it was a coincidence the policy was implemented during one of the days a coroner's inquest is being held into Kannick's death. 

In the wake of Kannick's death, Wilby said a full review was done, as was an internal investigation. Kannick was found unresponsive in her White Birch cell in August 2015 where she was later pronounced dead. It's believed Kannick was suffering from opioid withdrawal. 

"We determined that more work was needed on a withdrawal policy and protocol," he said Monday.

The policy introduced for the jails was adopted from one existing in the Saskatchewan Health Authority. 

"The important thing to remember is when someone presents in a hospital they have immediate access to a doctor. This has been revealed, we obviously don't have doctors  24/7 at our facilities, we do have nurses who we rely on for assessments."

Wilby said 2015 was a "watershed" year for corrections in the province, with several deaths from opioid withdrawal. However, he noted the exact cause of Kannick's death has not yet been determined as the inquest is still ongoing. 

On Monday, a corrections officer who was on shift the morning Kannick was found unresponsive in her cell — and ultimately pronounced dead — testified there was no protocol in place to deal with someone in custody going through opioid withdrawal. 

The officer said there were protocols established for inmates withdrawing from alcohol addiction which they believed could be fatal, while detoxing from opioids was not. 

Wilby said they chose to focus on the women's facilities for the new policy because the offender population is smaller and more static as compared to the men's. 

He explained there is room to amend the policy depending on what the jury recommends. 

As well, Wilby said there is no firm date as to when the policy would be expanded to the province's jails for men.

During the inquest, the jury heard there was not always a nurse on duty at White Birch back in 2015 at the time of Kannick's death. 

Wilby said after some review, they implemented new shifts for nurses at White Birch with some hours of overlap in order to ensure information is exchanged. 

On Monday, the jury heard there is still no nurse at the facility overnight. The inquest resumes Tuesday.

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca