Barton Jail rally calls for change after another inmate death in Ontario

A number of people showed off the plight of loved ones doing time in the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre on Nov. 9. Rick Zamperin

A rally at the Barton Street jail was just one of four scheduled in Ontario on the weekend calling for the Doug Ford government to take action in preventing inmate deaths.

Family and friends of Ryan McKechnie, who died from an overdose at the jail in 2017, took their message to the lawn of the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC) on Saturday afternoon.

McKechnie’s sister, Amy, told Global News that despite an inquest into Ryan’s death and 62 recommendations made to improve the HWDC, the holding facility is still a long way from being adequate.

“The inquests ended last year with 62 recommendations, and we haven’t really seen anything come out of that,” McKechnie claims.

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In an e-mail from Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, McKechnie was told change was underway at the facility including the hiring of an addictions counselor and improved intake assessments of new prisoners.

However, McKechnie says she’s seen little evidence of improvement in Ontario jails since her brother’s death.

“We go to Sylvia Jones (Solicitor General of Ontario) and we go to Justin Trudeau and we get no answers. We just get swapped back and forth to everybody. And then all these overdoses and the overcrowding and the injustices are still happening.”

Similar rallies took place on Sunday at the Niagara Detention Centre in Thorold, the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre in London, and outside the South West Detention Centre in Windsor.

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The Windsor rally was in response to the latest recorded jail death — a 31-year-old died on Oct. 30 from a suspected overdose according to the Windsor Star.

NDP MPP for Hamilton Mountain Monique Taylor joined the rally on Saturday and called the alleged opioid problem in the Barton jail problem “frustrating.”

‘We need action. We need our minister and the government to make sure that our people are safe and that people are getting the treatment and the rehabilitation that they need while they’re in corrections.”

In light of the six-week inquest – examining eight overdose deaths between 2012 and 2016 – five other inmates at the Barton Jail passed away since 2017 including McKechnie, Paul Debien, Brennan Bowley and Johnny Sharp, whose family and friends participated in Saturday’s rally.

Global News reached out to the Ministry of the Solicitor General after the weekend protests and asked about changes the province made after recommendations from the 2018 inquest.

Click to play video: '1 dead and 5 injured after suspected drug overdoses at Milton prison, police say'
1 dead and 5 injured after suspected drug overdoses at Milton prison, police say

Spokesperson Greg Flood confirmed addictions counselor, parcel x-ray scanner, 24- to 72-hour intake assessment for new inmates, canine searches, security policy audits, and an institutional security team “to detect contraband and its flow in the institution.”

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However, Flood said upgrades to CCTV technology, searches of jail staff, and inmate CPR training have yet to be implemented.

The ministry also admitted that overcrowding is becoming a concern for the detention centre.

In August, a tour from Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane revealed that United Nations minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners were not being met.

Mandhane observed up to three people in some cells when the jail is locked down when standards called for individual cells or rooms for each prisoner.

“The ministry has no control over who comes into custody and has a legal responsibility to uphold the orders of the court,” said Flood, “Unfortunately overcrowding is a challenge across the country. The ministry takes every effort to manage capacity within our facilities.”

Click to play video: 'Reversing opioid overdoses'
Reversing opioid overdoses

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