For the fifth time this year, an inmate has died at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre.
Details are scarce, but London police say the 29-year-old man was found inside his cell without vital signs around 12:10 p.m. on Tuesday, and was pronounced dead at the scene by emergency crews.
Cst. Jessica Mullen says an autopsy was scheduled for Wednesday.
“Once the autopsy is complete and we obtain further information, then we can put out further information about him potentially, including his identity,” Mullen said.
Mullen said she wasn’t able to comment whether the death is considered suspicious, but both the office of the chief coroner and the force’s major crimes unit are investigating.
“Until the cause is determined, we investigate fully – so that is why the major crime section has taken over,” explained Mullen.
A statement from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services confirmed the death, saying “it would be in appropriate for the ministry to comment further as investigations are underway.”
Kevin Egan, a lawyer who represents current and former inmates at the troubled provincial jail, is sounding off on systemic problems at the institution, including under staffing and over crowding.
“The institution was built for 150 inmates and it presently houses somewhere around 400,” said Egan.
Egan notes that many of the correctional staff also take time off over the holidays.
“If the institution is short-staffed over a holiday… it’s going to lead to inmates being locked down. They’re going to be locked in their cells because there’s no one to supervise them out on the range.”
That, Egan says, can lead to friction.
“There could be a situation where someone is desperately trying to get ahold of a loved one over Christmas and can’t access a telephone because they’re locked in their cell.”
The Boxing Day death is the latest of a string of deaths and injuries among inmates in the jail.
Earlier this month, police ruled out foul play in the Dec. 9 death of an inmate. No details about the victim’s identity were released.
Another inmate was pronounced dead in mid-August, prompting a response from Progressive Conservative MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London Jeff Yurek, who is calling on the government to expedite the delivery of a body scanner and allow correctional officers to carry the drug naloxone, which counteracts the effects of opioids like fentanyl and oxycodone.
A man accused in the death of Raymond Beaver was transferred out of the facility after appearing in court in mid-October with two black eyes.
Earlier that same month, 32-year-old Anthony George was sentenced for the beating death of cellmate Adam Kargus. The 29-year-old Sarnia man was just two weeks into his sentence when he was beaten to death in his cell on Oct. 31, 2013.
Six inmates have filed a lawsuit against the province in the wake of the beating death, claiming they’re suffering lasting psychological trauma after being forced to witness a murder while locked in their cells.
A joint coroner’s inquest into the deaths of inmates was announced in August. Floyd Deleary, 39, died Aug. 23, 2015 while Justin Thompson, 27, died Oct. 31, 2016. Both died in hospital after being transferred from EMDC, but few other details have been released.
Another inquest has also been launched in connection with the death of Jamie High on the morning of Dec. 23, 2014. High, a London-area realtor, died at London Health Sciences Centre’s Victoria campus after being transferred there from EMDC, the ministry said in a media release, adding an inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act.