‘Ottawa’ Ottawa Man Taken off Suicide Watch in Jail Less Than a Day Before Killing Himself
An inmate who hanged himself in his segregation cell at the Ottawa jail had been off suicide watch for less than a day when he took his own life, according to a statement provided to the man’s family by the coroner’s office.
New details about Yousef Hussein’s death have emerged as the families of two other inmates with mental illness who died by suicide have sent a letter to Ontario’s chief coroner demanding that his office call an immediate joint inquest into their deaths.
Russel Molot, a lawyer representing Hussein’s family, said a coroner’s investigative statement revealed that Hussein reportedly saw a jail psychologist on April 8, 2016 after making a threat to kill himself. According to the investigative statement, the psychologist considered him suicidal and recommended he be put on a suicide watch. Hussein was removed from suicide watch on April 11. He was found hanging in his cell from his bunk at 3 a.m. on April 12.
Molot said the family still has no idea why he was removed from suicide watch or why he was suicidal.
Hussein’s suicide was followed by two more suicides at the jail over a 10-month period, prompting the families of the other two inmates, Justin St-Amour, 32, and Cleve “Cas” Geddes, 30, to demand that inquests be called into their deaths in the next 90 days. Currently, it can take several years for an inquest to be held.
Both suffered from schizophrenia and had been placed on suicide watches; both hanged themselves in their cells, where they had been placed alone. Geddes was only in the detention centre because there was no bed available at the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre, where he was supposed to be undergoing an assessment to determine if he was criminally responsible for his alleged crimes. St-Amour died on Dec. 8, 2016, while Geddes died on Feb. 10, 2017.
In a letter sent by their lawyer to Ontario chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer last week, the families of St-Amour and Geddes said they believe the deaths of their loved ones, along with Hussein, “strongly suggest there is ongoing systemic failure to treat and protect inmates at risk of suicide at OCDC.”
The families said they believe that the suicides raises troubling questions about whether the provincial ministry in charge of the detention centre is doing enough to prevent it from happening again, particularly among inmates with psychiatric illnesses.
Laureen St-Amour said she feels her son died in vain after another suicide at the jail since his death.
“I was angry somebody else had to pass that way, in the same fashion as my son,” she said. “There are no answers. We don’t know how to fix the problems.”
The families said they believe an inquest will likely produce recommendations that will avoid or prevent further deaths at the jail. Inquests are mandatory for suicides or unnatural deaths inside jails. Since the suicides of St-Amour and Geddes are similar, they hope the inquests can be held together. Molot said Hussein’s family is open to the possibility of all three inquests being held at the same time.
“Three suicides in 10 months at OCDC (the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre) can fairly be described as a crisis, yet the Regional Coroner’s office does not seem to be treating the matter with the urgency it deserves,” said lawyer Paul Champ, who represents the families of St-Amour and Geddes.
The regional supervising coroner for Ottawa, Dr. Louise McNaughton-Filion, said an announcement that an inquest was going to be held in Hussein’s death is expected shortly. She said the death investigations for St-Amour and Geddes are not yet complete, and the process of calling an inquest can only begin once that is done.
The chief coroner would conduct a joint inquest if he believes there is a “broader systemic issue” and that examining all the deaths together would result in better recommendations, McNaughton-Filion said.
“It is in the public interest to go forward with an inquest as expeditiously as possible. At the same time, it is very important that we do it right,” said McNaughton-Filion. “The coroner’s motto is we speak for the dead to protect the living. We take that motto very, very seriously.”
Champ’s letter was also sent to the Ottawa MPP and minister of community safety and correctional services Marie-France Lalonde and Ontario Attorney General and former jails minister Yasir Naqvi.
A support group for inmates and their families, Mothers Offering Mutual Support, have also sent Lalonde, Huyer and McNaughton-Filion a letter asking for an expedited coroner’s inquest. They note that waits for inquests for deaths in custody are currently between three and seven years.
“We believe that such a long waiting period would be highly inappropriate in the case of inmates of OCDC given that this institution has already been singled out as urgently in need of systemic changes and a government-led Task Force has made 42 recommendations in recognition of this need,” they wrote.
Both Lalonde’s office and the ministry of community safety and correctional services said the coroner’s office is an arm’s length from the ministry and government.
In his letter to the chief coroner, Champ alleged both deaths were “as tragic as they were preventable.”
Champ cited an Ontario study that showed suicide rates for young men in jail are up to 10 times greater than those who are not incarcerated. He added that numerous studies have demonstrated that cell designs which remove or modify suspension or anchor points can reduce the incidence of suicide and save lives.
“Persons who have schizophrenia and other serious psychiatric conditions are particularly vulnerable while in custody, as the feelings of helplessness and despair can be overwhelming,” wrote Champ. “In many cases, incarceration aggravates mental illness, and can reflect a very sad and cruel dynamic for persons who are placed in jail in the first place due to behaviour related to that same illness. A correctional institution is not a therapeutic environment and should never be a substitute for a hospital.”
St-Amour’s mother said she thinks it is sad it is taking so long for an inquest to be called into the suicides.
“I hope it expedites the coroner’s inquest so we can make changes to whatever is going on inside the OCDC.”