Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Family, leaders decry death after RCMP care

Tragedy labelled negligence

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The family of a northern Manitoba woman is blaming RCMP and health-care staff for her death last month after the 31-year-old woman was picked up and held for intoxication.

Tracy Okemow died on Nov. 30, two days after RCMP responded to an anonymous call to help a distraught woman at a home on God's Lake First Nation.

She was originally taken to the nursing station and then to a holding cell for the night. When her health deteriorated, she was taken back to the nursing station and then airlifted to Winnipeg, where she later died in hospital.

Her family maintains RCMP ignored her pleas for help the night she was behind bars.

"My sister called for help and the RCMP ignored her. They should have taken Tracy to the nursing station again. Maybe my sister would be alive today," said her brother, Ralph Okemow, as he sat with aboriginal leaders Thursday.

He said Tracy had complained throughout the night about abdominal pain and shortness of breath, but guards ignored her.

"They were saying, 'Come on Tracy, we know you're just faking,' " Ralph Okemow said.

The woman was told to "sleep it off," family members say.

On Thursday afternoon, RCMP Chief Supt. Scott Kolody said in a statement the in-custody death is under investigation by RCMP Manitoba's serious crimes unit.

The Brandon Police Service will review the investigation, and a local community member is acting as an observer in that investigation, the statement said.

Autopsy results show no signs of foul play. A cause of death cannot be determined until the toxicology report is complete.

Family and northern chiefs conducted their own investigation, collecting statements from the last community people to see Tracy Okemow alive. Local leaders said they pieced together the account from a jail guard and two inmates who were incarcerated at the same time.

She was reported to be screaming, shouting and vomiting in the holding cell, suffering at least one cardiac arrest in the morning, family members claim.

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the political organization that represents 30 northern First Nations, says the statements they collected are evidence of gross negligence.

"The lack of care for an individual who was calling for help throughout the night is totally unacceptable," said MKO Grand Chief David Harper.

"She was tormented and at the same time, she was caged."

Health Canada issued a statement Thursday expressing "sincere sympathy to the family of the deceased and to the community."

The nursing station normally has five nurses available for care, as well as one doctor during business hours. It was fully operational at the time of Tracy Okemow's death, the department said.


-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2012 A7

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