Thunder Bay·Audio

Inquest jury calls for new jail in Thunder Bay, measures to keep drugs out

A coroner's inquest into the deaths of two men, months apart from each other, who were in custody at the Thunder Bay District Jail in 2007 has wrapped up.

Jury makes over 16 recommendations in coroner's inquest into the deaths of Ronald Fagan and Jacy Pierre

Marlene Pierre's grandson Jacy Pierre died while in custody at the Thunder Bay District Jail in 2007. A coroner's inquest ruled his death was from an accidental methadone overdose. (Matt Prokopchuk / CBC)
In 2007 two young men died of methadone overdoses while in custody at the Thunder Bay Jail. The inquest into their deaths just wrapped up. Emily Hill is the lawyer for the families.

A coroner's inquest into the deaths of two men, months apart from each other, who were in custody at the Thunder Bay District Jail in 2007 has wrapped up.

The inquest was examining the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 21-year-old Ronald Fagan and 27-year-old Jacy Pierre.

The five-person jury found — after listening to over a week of testimony — that both men died from accidental overdoses of methadone. Fagan died at the jail, while Pierre died at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, according to the jury's verdict.

In addition to determining the cause of the deaths, the jury made recommendations aimed at preventing similar fatalities. Jurors returned with 16 recommendations, one of them being to adopt six others from another coroner's inquest from southern Ontario.

Among the 16 recommendations is a call for a new jail in Thunder Bay, to replace the nearly 100-year-old structure on MacDougall Street. Jurors also wanted to see better measures in place to prevent drugs and other contraband from entering jails, improving the monitoring of inmate health, and an increase in jail staffing to allow for inmates to have regular access to private counseling.

Lack of First Nations representation

It's taken over eight years for the inquest into Fagan's and Pierre's deaths to happen.

Questions were raised several years ago about the fairness of the roll from which the jurors would be chosen. The inquest was one of a number of proceedings that were then held up due to rulings that jury rolls were not representative of the aboriginal population.

Marlene Pierre, Jacy's grandmother, has been one of the people asking questions. After the inquest adjourned Wednesday, she said that although she's pleased with the recommendations, she's disappointed in the lack of First Nations representation.

"Our remaining difficulty is the fact that we did not achieve aboriginal representation on the jury, with all due respect to the five women jury members," she said.

"We know that they worked hard."

Pierre said the family wants to see "traditional knowledge holders," put something in place in the justice system that is "relevant to our values and our way of treating each other."

"The jury recommendations are good for the whole system," she said. "We're looking at our own way, that we use our own Anishinabek way to treat people who have hurt others."

On the recommendations themselves, Pierre said she hopes the province takes a good look at them.

"They'll [say] 'oh this takes time, and that takes time,' but that's not a reason in our view to not try and improve the living and service conditions for inmates all across Ontario, not just our own."