‘Ottawa’ Prisoner Suffers Miscarriage in Ottawa Cell as Her Cries for Help Were Ignored
A pregnant inmate who suffered a miscarriage in her Ottawa jail cell said her cries for help were ignored for 10 to 15 minutes by staff who wouldn’t call her an ambulance – and instead took her to hospital in the back of a prisoner transport van.
In what a judge described as “nightmarish and inhumane treatment” at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre, the woman’s sentencing hearing heard how a criminal defence lawyer, a Crown prosecutor, a support worker from the Elizabeth Fry Society and a social worker all tried in vain to convince jail officials to have the 28-year-old woman taken to a hospital before she began bleeding uncontrollably in her cell on the evening of Jan. 25.
The miscarriage was the culmination of what the lawyer says was 15 days of jail staff failing to properly treat the 28-year-old, who arrived at the jail directly from the hospital on January 11 after an ultrasound that confirmed she was 11 or 12 weeks pregnant.
The woman was in custody after failing to show up at the jail to serve a 12-day intermittent sentence in November. She had also stolen a bottle of Grey Goose vodka from the LCBO on Nov. 4 and $227.76 worth of items from a Walmart on Jan. 11. She was in court on Jan. 27 to plead guilty to being unlawfully at large and two counts of theft.
Court was told that no one seems to know what happened to the fetal remains following the miscarriage, although the information that the inmate and her lawyer have is that it may have been flushed down a toilet.
According to lawyer Erica Tanny, the woman was also subjected to “paternalistic and religious platitudes” from the head of the medical department during her stay in the jail. The inmate filed a sworn affidavit in court outlining her treatment in the jail that was not disputed by the Crown.
“Throughout the 17 days which (the inmate) stayed at OCDC, she suffered medically. She endured conditions that were appalling, that were cruel, and shocking to the public conscience,” said Tanny.
Tanny said it was “an extraordinarily traumatic and draconian way of miscarrying a child.”
The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, who oversees the detention centre, said it has launched an investigation into the inmate’s treatment while at the jail. The ministry said it couldn’t comment on the specific case because of provisions of the Personal Health Information Protection Act.
“We are taking these allegations very seriously,” wrote Lauren Souch, a spokesperson for corrections minister and Ottawa-Orleans MPP Marie-France Lalonde, in an e-mailed statement. “The health and safety of our inmates is of utmost importance to the ministry, and we will be launching a full investigation into these allegations in order to ensure that ministry policies were properly followed.”
Souch wrote that correctional staff would call 911 in medical emergencies. The ministry has policies and procedures in place to ensure that inmates receive necessary health assessments when they are admitted and as needed during their period of incarceration, she wrote.
Souch added that all pregnant inmates have access to pre-natal supports, including regular examinations and treatment, and are provided dietary supplements.
“Decisions about prenatal care, labour and delivery would be made by the pregnant patient and her doctors. The ministry does not interfere with medical decisions or direct medical professionals,” wrote Souch.
Court heard that it was the latest tragedy for the inmate, whose 2 1/2 year old son was killed by a drunk driver and whose parents are both deceased. Following the death of her son, the inmate became addicted to opiates and started committing petty crime, her lawyer said — a “maladaptive grief response” to the loss of her child.
“It is particularly concerning given (the inmate’s) history of already having lost a child under traumatic circumstances,” Tanny told Ontario Court Justice Peter Wright during a sentencing hearing on Jan. 27. “She is devastated.”
The woman, who is on welfare, recognizes her addiction and is seeking treatment, Tanny said. She was returned to the jail after spending a day in hospital following the miscarriage.
Following the guilty pleas, the judge ignored a joint position offered by the Crown and defence and instead handed out a fine of $1 on each of the three charges she faced so the victim surcharges would be reduced. Wright said given the woman’s experience, anything more seemed “unduly harsh” and would be adding insult to injury.
Wright then offered his condolences for what had happened to her.
“I honestly don’t really know what to say. I’m just kind of a bit upset,” the woman told the judge before being sentenced.
Tanny said the inmate’s treatment at the jail was particularly egregious given the court “has long recognized the adverse effect to women’s health and the security of the person which is occasioned by delay in accessing reproductive health services.”
In an interview Thursday, Tanny said she had sought help from a Crown prosecutor to get the woman to a hospital after she started experiencing less severe bleeding early on in her stay at the jail.
Tanny said she isn’t sure why the woman wasn’t taken to hospital more promptly.
“I think it just wasn’t done,” said Tanny. “I think it was just a question of too much delay.”
The woman’s experience shares similarities with that of Julie Bilotta, another pregnant OCDC inmate who gave birth in her cell in September 2012.
In the Bilotta case, a 2014 disciplinary decision from the College of Nurses of Ontario revealed that correctional officers repeatedly told a nurse that Bilotta was likely “faking it” while another asked if her breech baby’s emerging foot was smuggled drugs. Bilotta had begged to go to the hospital for hours but got nothing but Tylenol from the jail nurse, according to the disciplinary decision. Bilotta was 36 weeks pregnant and the pregnancy was already considered high-risk.
It wasn’t until 25 minutes after a correctional officer paged a medical emergency – and after both of the baby’s feet were visible – that an ambulance was called.
Bilotta’s son Gionni, who was plagued by respiratory problems since his birth, passed away shortly after his first birthday. Bilotta has since filed a $1.3-million lawsuit against the province.
The latest incident also came just days before the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services released a progress report touting improvements they made to health care at the jail.
The report was highlighting the ministry’s progress addressing 42 recommendations to improve the jail made by a task force that was appointed after the Citizen revealed that inmates were sleeping in segregation shower cells. One of the task force’s recommendations was that the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care take over health care in the jail, but that has yet to happen. The ministry said they are currently in discussions with the health ministry.