SASKATOON – A group that helps women in the justice system is challenging a decision by a Saskatchewan coroner to bar it from taking part in an inquest. Kinew James died in January 2013 after she was found unresponsive in her cell at the federal Saskatoon Regional Psychiatric Centre.
The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies said other inmates reported at the time hearing James shouting for help and using a distress button in her cell.
Kim Pate, the group’s national executive director, said a coroner has ruled the group does not have a substantial interest in the inquest’s outcome or in recommendations the jury might make.
Pate says her group is seeking a judicial review of the decision.
A Saskatchewan Justice spokesman says the ministry is looking at the request for a review.
The spokesman also said in an email that standing has been granted to James’s mother and the Correctional Service of Canada.
“It was quite frankly shocking and I was quite flummoxed by the decision,” Pate said from Ottawa on Friday.
“It is vitally important for the Canadian public to know what happens within our institutions.”
James, 35, was serving time for manslaughter, assault, uttering threats, arson, mischief and obstruction of justice.
Pate said the society had standing in an Ontario inquest into the death of Ashley Smith. The nineteen-year-old died in her cell at the Grand Valley Institution in Kitchener, Ont., in 2007 after wrapping a strip of cloth around her neck.
Guards who were ordered not to intervene stood watch outside her cell.
Most of Smith’s final year was spent in segregation being shunted to different prisons, including the psychiatric centre in Saskatoon.
Pate said the society worked with James for a number of years and has a direct interest in the inquest, which is to be held in January to determine what happened.
“I think we have information that is germane to that,” she said.
“We are always working to try and prevent similar deaths in the future and so … we have an ongoing and abiding interest in these issues.”