Sask. coroner rules no inquest in 6 prison deaths, including that of alleged gang leader

Saskatchewan's chief coroner has decided against calling inquests in six cases of men killed behind bars in the province, a move a defence lawyer says should shock the public.

Chief coroner's decision should 'shock the public,' says lawyer

Daniel Wolfe, left, and Aime Simard both died in custody at Saskatchewan Penitentiary. (CBC)

The province's chief coroner has decided against calling inquests in six cases of men killed behind bars, a move that's being criticized by a prominent Saskatchewan defence lawyer.

"To not follow through with what are legally required processes should shock the public generally and we should be asking questions as to why that is so," said lawyer Don Worme.

The province's chief coroner is obliged under law to call an inquest when a person dies in custody. However, the coroner has the discretion to not call an investigation when someone is charged and convicted of the killing.

In the six cases, the coroner ruled that all that would have been learned came out through the court processes and police investigation.

Worme disagrees.

"I think a police investigation is aimed in an entirely different direction and that is to investigate, to look at the facts and circumstances and in the process of doing so, to assign and afford blame," he said.

"That is a completely different process from that of an inquest."

Deaths in prison

Two of the six deaths involved high-profile victims in the federal prison system.

Daniel Wolfe, one of the alleged founders of the Indian Posse street gang, was fatally stabbed twice in the chest on Jan. 4, 2010 at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

Aime Simard was stabbed more than 70 times in his cell at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary on July 18, 2003. Simard was a police informant who testified against the Hells Angels.

The third and most recent case involved Elvis Lachance. He was beaten to death at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre in September 2012.

In all three cases, other inmates were convicted of killing the victims.

The coroner's office did not agree to an interview about the six cases but offered written answers to questions.

It said the decision not to hold inquests came down to two broad areas: first, that "it would not in the best interest of the public to review the facts publicly given the significant security and intelligence issues involved" and that, after the police investigations, it decided "no outstanding issues existed."

Controversy over proposed changes

Don Worme is a veteran of inquests in Saskatchewan and Ontario and said there are ways to protect information in an inquest to satisfy law enforcement, such as going behind closed doors to discuss sensitive areas.

He added that the type of information that comes out of an inquest is different than a police investigation. An investigation lays blame, while an inquest is supposed to come up with recommendations to prevent a tragedy from happening again.

A year ago, the province introduced proposed legislation that would have left calling inquests completely up to the chief coroner.

The province withdrew the Coroner's Amendment Act after a month.

At the time, Justice Minister Gordon Wyant said the ministry had received calls from families of people who died in custody, who were against the changes.

Drew Wilby, a spokesperson for the Justice department, said a recent outside review announced of the Coroner's Branch will likely look at when inquests should be mandatory.

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.