June 4, 2018 5:24 am

Rally outside London jail demands better care for Ontario’s inmates

Those attending the rally stand outside the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre. The crosses being held represent the 13 inmates who have died inside since 2009.

Andrew Graham / 980 CFPL

About 50 people gathered in the rain outside the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) on Sunday to rally for better care of Ontario’s inmates.

A shared experience among the attendees was the lost of a loved one inside the maximum security prison on Exeter Road.

Towards the end of the rally, crosses were planted near the EMDC. The gesture was done to honour the 13 inmates who have died in the prison since 2009.

“This is just the beginning,” said organizer Lynn Pigeau, who lost her brother in January while he was an inmate at the prison.

“We want to go to Queen’s Park… They’re used to everything being swept under the carpet and families being quiet, but not this time. My brother was silenced, I won’t be silenced.”

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READ MORE: London police investigate another inmate death at EMDC

Pigeau organized the event through a Facebook group called Justice for Inmates, which provide a social media space for others going through a situation similar to Pigeau’s.

Lawyer Kevin Egan also played an instrumental in helping the rally come together.

Egan represents a number of families who’ve lost loved ones inside the prison. In April, he invited a number of clients for a meeting at his office.

“The families that came together thought they needed to do another step,” said Egan. “I think it’s a cathartic event for the families to feel like they can speak with one voice about the injustices that go on behind these four walls.”

The lawyer credits overcrowding, under-staffing, a culture of violence and the amount of drugs brought into the prison with eroding the living conditions of inmates.

“If the institution was run correctly, we would have 13 more souls alive in this world today than we do.”

Egan added that most families he represents are often left in the dark while waiting for an inquest to be conducted.

“For many of them it’s been many years without any indication of what the circumstances were around their loved one’s death.”

Family and friends of inmates who’ve died stand behind crosses honouring their loved ones.

Andrew Graham / 980 CFPL

Liz Thompson was one of many who lost a family member inside the EMDC. In late 2017, her son, Justin, was found dead inside his jail cell, just days before he was set to be release.

Thompson said her and her husband, Kent, always felt they were alone until Egan connected them with a group of families going through similar experiences.

“We’re going to keep rallying until changes are made,” said Thompson. “Death can’t continue to happen.”

READ MORE: Conservative MPP calls for independent audit of EMDC following Boxing Day death

For Bryanna Campbell, who was Justin’s niece, the rally provided inspiration. A second-year student at the University of Guelph studying criminal justice and public policy, Campbell said she wants to continue fighting against what lead to her uncle’s death.

“I’ve totally changed what I want to become… this is something I want focus on in order to make a big change in the future.

READ MORE: Jail guards to stand trial for alleged role in death of Ontario inmate

Less than a week before Sunday’s rally, Ontario’s top court ruled a pair of guards from EMDC would stand trial for their alleged role in the death of Adam Kargus.

In 2013, the 29-year-old was beaten to death by his cellmate inside the prison.

The ruling reverses an earlier decision from a lower court that would have withdrawn charges laid against the correctional officers. In that decision, the lower court argued the case against them had eclipsed the 30-month time limit for trials set out by the Supreme Court of Canada.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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