Saskatchewan

Uko family suing the Saskatchewan Health Authority and Sask. government over son's death

Samwel Uko's family has hired Regina lawyer Tony Merchant to sue the Saskatchewan government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). Uko took his own life May 21 of this year after several trips to the hospital.

Uko died by suicide in late May

Samwel Uko was an athlete with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies after graduating high school in Abbotsford, B.C. (Facebook/Samwel Uko)

Samwel Uko's family is suing the Saskatchewan government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). The family has hired Regina lawyer Tony Merchant for the case.

Uko took his own life on May 21, 2020 after two trips to the hospital in the throes of a mental health crisis. Merchant's statement of claim, issued Friday, alleges negligence on the part of hospital staff.

The statement of claim alleges that "the SHA, through its agents and employees, allowed discriminatory and inadequate medical practice to occur and be conducted on Samwel."

As for the government's role, Merchant alleges that "Saskatchewan failed to protect Samwel, who struggled with mental health issues, in his most vulnerable state from the institutional negligence prevalent in the exercise of the health care policies and practices."

"If you compare, if somebody arrives [at the hospital] and they had symptoms of a heart attack, we have policies and hospital workers immediately take proper steps," Tony Merchant said. 

"The difficulty with mental health ... is that we don't address it the way we address other illness. We don't focus on it financially and we don't have effective protocols."

Uko's uncle, Justin Nyee, said the family always wanted to hold the hospital responsible.

"The hospital should not be waiting for something to happen to change policies," he said.

Nyee said the family wants to know if anyone has been reprimanded for what transpired in the hospital that day. The SHA has apologized to the family, but Nyee said it wasn't specific. 

"There was a lot of, why are you admitting your mistake? What did you do wrong?" he said. "What actions have you taken?"

Nyee said this goes beyond just Uko's case. Nyee and Uko's parents are refugees. Nyee said there are so many families like his that the system fails.

When Uko died, his community was stunned. Nyee the reaction was, "If this can happen to Samwel, what about me?" 

A memorial for Samwel Uko in Abbotsford, B.C. (Baneet Braich/for CBC)

Nyee said the family wants to keep this visible so other families dealing with people who have mental health issues don't have to go through this. 

"The fight now is not for Samwel. Samwel is already gone. The fight now is for other people that shouldn't go through that."

The SHA said in a statement Friday it won't comment on the statement of claim, as it's an active legal file. They extended their sympathy to the family. 

Uko's family is seeking damages, but Merchant said it's not really about the money for them. They want the system to change. Merchant said it's unlikely the family will get much money from this case if they were successful anyway. 

"This becomes litigation of love for the family and litigation of principle for Tony Merchant," he said. 

SHA previously apologized

After Uko's death and the outcry that followed, the SHA issued an apology to Uko's family.

"I extend this apology and condolences on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority to your entire family, and most especially you, Samwel's parents," the provincial health authority's CEO Scott Livingstone said in a letter in July obtained by CBC.

"I appreciate there are no words that can bring Samwel back, but I want you to know that we recognize how deeply we failed him," Livingstone said in his letter.

The SHA was reviewing Uko's second visit to the hospital over the summer. Livingstone said that beyond any recommendations that come from the review, the health authority is committed to enhancing access to mental health supports in the province.

Saskatchewan Party leader Scott Moe has also said the coroner's service will conduct a public inquest into the death of Samwel Uko. 

About the Author

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter/Associate Producer

Emily Pasiuk is a Regina-based reporter for CBC Saskatchewan and an associate producer for The Morning Edition. She has filmed two documentaries, reported at CTV Saskatoon and written for Global Regina. Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

With files from Omayra Issa

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