Saskatoon

Victim and 2 accused attackers were all on remand unit at Saskatoon jail

Cornell Henry was on the same remand unit at the Saskatoon jail as the two men now allegedly involved with his death. A year ago, the provincial auditor identified remand numbers as an issue that needed addressing.

Provincial auditor highlighted remand issues a year ago

Cornell Henry died at Royal University Hospital on Thursday. He had been assaulted at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre on Oct. 23. (CBC)

The two men charged with allegedly assaulting Cornell Henry at the Saskatoon jail were already waiting for court appearances for violent attacks.

The 40-year-old Henry died early Thursday at Royal University Hospital, where he'd been taken following an Oct. 23 assault at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre.

All three men were in a two-level unit for men on remand. This means the individuals had been charged and were awaiting trial.

The province will not say why Henry was in custody.

But the two men originally charged with aggravated assault in the attack on Henry both faced serious allegations of violence.

Nathan Ermine was on remand for allegations that included aggravated assault, possession, robbery and theft.

Raven Don Constant had been on remand at different correctional centres since early 2013 and was about to stand trial for second-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder. On Wednesday, three days into his trial, he pleaded guilty to murder and aggravated assault.

If Constant's charge of aggravated assault against Henry is upgraded, he could face a second murder charge in Henry's death as he awaits his sentence for the first.

A remand issue

Although in the same unit, Henry was not sharing a cell with either Ermine or Constant. Initial reports from investigators are that Ermine and Constant allegedly went into Henry's cell on the morning of Oct. 23.

The number of inmates on remand is a longstanding issue at the jail. A little more than half the 450 inmates there now — 244 — have not been convicted of a crime.

The provincial auditor says this is a dangerous and expensive practice.

​In her December 2016 report, Judy Ferguson said increases in the number of prisoners in custody awaiting trial or sentencing is leading to overcrowding and inefficient use of tax dollars, costing $166 per inmate each day.

Saskatchewan's adult inmate population has grown 51 per cent since 2006, mainly due to a 104 per cent increase in number of inmates on remand.

And it can sometimes prove fatal.

​In September, 2012 Elvis Lachance was beaten to death by his cellmate while on remand. Lachance had been charged with breaking and entering and breach of probation.

Dallas Bird pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in that case. Court heard that Lachance died because Bird was making a point about how the Terror Squad gang controlled that part of the jail.

Drew Wilby, Ministry of Justice spokesperson, says he is limited about what he can say about Cornell Henry's death. But he said gangs are still a consideration.

"Our primary concern when determining where to house an inmate is the safety and security of staff and inmates," he said.

"Gang affiliations are an important consideration when making those decisions." 

About the Author

Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.

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