Saskatchewan

Regina mother continues human rights battle for son denied detox

Jenny Churchill is filing a human rights complaint started by her son Jordan Wakelam, who died earlier this year, about his alleged treatment at a detox facility.

Jenny Churchill's son Jordan Wakelam died of an opioid overdose in January

Jenny Churchill says she wants to see staff at detox facilities properly trained to deal with those suffering from addiction. (CBC News)

Every day Regina's Jenny Churchill wonders, 'What if?'

What if her son Jordan Wakelam had been permitted to enter a detox facility in Moose Jaw rather than being told to leave?

These questions are at the heart of a dispute now under investigation by the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. 

"He did go into another detox program. He lived though for the rest of his few months, the rest of his life, with shame," Churchill said.

Wakelam died  in January after a suspected fentanyl overdose, having first tried the powerful opioid four years ago, Churchill said.

He had struggled with addiction for years before that, spending the past few years in and out of treatment and detox.

The autumn before his death, Wakelam sought help.

Wait times for detox facilities in Saskatchewan in 2016-17

  • Wakamow Manor-48 hours to five days (20 beds)
  • La Loche Health Centre- 24 to 48 hours (four beds)
  • St. Joseph's Health Centre-24 to 48 hours (four beds)
  • La Ronge Health Centre-24 to 28 hours (four beds)
  • Slim Thorpe (two beds)
  • Robert Simard Centre-24 to 28 hours (four beds)​
  • MACSI in Prince Albert-24 to 28 hours (six beds)
  • Prince Albert Brief Detox-less than 24 hours (eight beds)
  • Prince Albert Social Detox-less than 24 hours (six beds)
  • Secure Youth Detox Centr-24 hours (six beds)
  • Brief Detox in Regina-less than 24 hours (20 beds)
  • Social Detox in Regina-24 to 28 hours (25 beds)
  • Calder Youth Stablization-less than 24 hours (six beds)
  • Brief Detox Unit in Saskatoon (12 beds)
  • Social Detox Unite (19 beds)

**Data provided by Saskatchewan's Ministry of Health

 It was arranged that he attend Wakamow Manor, a 20-bed detox facility in Moose Jaw, which is operated by the Thunder Creek Rehabilitation Association, but is funded by the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

Churchill says her son grew up playing hockey and was called 'Happy Gilmore' by teammates and friends.

Churchill drove her son to Moose Jaw on Oct. 24, 2017.  He had turned 30 just weeks earlier and the two chatted over his plans to change, hopes of playing hockey again, a sport he grew up playing where he earned the nickname 'Happy Gilmore.'

'He was just so excited'

"He was just so excited about it. Very positive. Probably the best I've ever seen him as far as his willingness and openness and passion to get help," she recalled. 

Churchill dropped him off in the city and returned to Regina. While in line at the grocery store she noticed incoming calls. Once at home, she picked up the phone and called Wakelam. 

Churchill took a photo of her son as he headed towards a detox facility, which he was ultimately told to leave.

'He was hysterical' 

"He was hysterical on the phone. 'Mom, they threw me out.' I said, What do you mean they threw you out?' and he started to tell me what had happened."

She explained staff the detox facility told her Wakelam had allegedly acted aggressively, arrived late and was said to have been high. 

Questions about his upcoming court date also caused him frustration that day, Churchill said.

He could not remember the date right away when he was asked about it. He proceeded to find it in his bags, but felt rushed.

After back and forth calls with the centre, Churchill said she still does not have a clear picture about what occurred, but has concerns her son says he was treated rudely.

 "It's not just the fact he was thrown on the street, the comments that were made to him during the intake process were unacceptable."

Longtime drug counsellor Rand Teed says intake staff should be flexible so people wanting to become drug free can access detox services.

Drug counsellor says patients shouldn't be turned away

Longtime drug counsellor Rand Teed said patients should not be denied care because they show up high.

"The purpose of a detox is to help people get off a substance so if they can get off it on their own they don't need detox," he said. "Showing up to a detox impaired seems to be pretty normal and part of the process."

Teed said patients should be treated medically to reduce withdrawal symptoms. He said it's common for people going into detox to be agitated or generally emotional.

"Unless the person goes into detox having seen a doctor, with the appropriate withdrawal medication, detoxes don't provide those," Teed said. "They also don't pay for them, which I think is not right.

"If you go into the hospital with a heart problem nobody says, 'Well, you have to come here with your own medications because we're not going to provide them for you.' "

If a patient is acting violent or attacking staff, Teed said they may need to be dealt with by the police, but they shouldn't automatically be kicked out and re-added to a wait list which could put them weeks behind.

He said the number of people who are waiting for care is already alarming. He called on the provincial government to provide more resources to detox centres to help alleviate the problem.

'He was terrified'

"He was terrified. He was scared. He was ashamed. He was humiliated. He was crying because he said, 'Mom this is how people get treated when you're a drug addict, this is how people treat you.' I said, 'Not in a detox facility, son.'"

His mother says Wakelam slept on a recliner 56 hours on the streets after being denied entry into a detox facility.

Churchill said Wakelam did not return home after being booted from the facility. He called a friend and proceeded to spend nearly 60 hours on the street using drugs, she said. 

An executive director from the detox facility declined comment when contacted by CBC News on Thursday, deferring to the Human Rights Commission, saying client matters are not discussed publicly.

"The ministry was recently made aware of the human rights complaint. It would be inappropriate to comment further while it is before the Human Rights Commissioner," a spokesperson for health wrote in an email to CBC. 

Family says centre apologized

Days after lodging a complaint with the facility, Churchill said her son received a letter from the centre on Nov.1, 2017, apologizing. 

Here's what the letter said: "Our investigation shows that you were not treated with the decency, dignity and respect that you deserved when being admitted into Wakamow Manor Social Detox on the evening of Tuesday October 24, 2017". 

Jordan Wakelam had celebrated his 30th birthday in October 2017 when he tried to enter a detox facility in Moose Jaw.

Churchill said her son felt "vindicated", but wanted to file a human rights complaint, so together they did.

"He wanted to advocate for other people so that they didn't experience what he experienced. He was always doing that. That was Jordan."

She said the complaint was accepted, but at that point her son was no longer alive.  

Churchill had the complaint transferred into her name. It outlines how Wakelam was allegedly denied access to treatment and discriminated against due to his addiction. 

She decided to go public with her complaint after mediation was not reached and the commission entered its investigative stage.

Churchill also recently posted to Facebook asking anyone with similar experiences at the facility to come forward.

"We had, as a family ... made the decision to pursue the complaint. We feel that we need to continue with Jordan;s work on Earth. And one of those things was this complaint."

Churchill says she wants to see staff at detox facilities properly trained to deal with those suffering from addiction. 

"We don't want this happening to anybody else."

There's no word on when the decision from the Human Rights Commission will be released.

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