Deaths in custody spark call for public inquiry

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The Southern Chiefs' Organization is calling for a public inquiry, and its leader has criticized the independent investigation process, after the deaths of two incarcerated Sagkeeng First Nation men in less than a month.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/03/2021 (528 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Southern Chiefs’ Organization is calling for a public inquiry, and its leader has criticized the independent investigation process, after the deaths of two incarcerated Sagkeeng First Nation men in less than a month.

“We’ve tried to have confidence that our citizens will be looked after within these institutions, and in this instance, it leaves us having a lot of questions about what were the circumstances surrounding the death of our citizens,” SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels told the Free Press.

Dwayne Simard, 37, died in custody March 1. He had been wanted on an arrest warrant since September 2019, and died in Stony Mountain Institution two days after a standoff with Winnipeg police.

Southern Chiefs’ Organization Grand Chief Jerry Daniels says he and his organization have questions about the circumstances surrounding two recents in-custody deaths. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

William Ahmo, 45, died Feb. 14 in hospital, days after suffering severe injuries in an incident at Headingley Correctional Centre.

Both deaths are currently under investigation — but institutional racism has proven such investigations fruitless before, Daniels said Thursday.

“This is the reality that we see playing out. We’ve asked for a review of the IIU (in the past), we’ve called for a closer look at what’s happened in Headingley correctional facility,” he said.

Daniels said he believes one of the only ways for a truly impartial review of both incidents to occur would be to introduce an “independent, First Nations-led investigative unit.”

“In any investigation, as an investigative officer, you have the decision-making power around what you consider relevant to the investigation, and it leads you in a direction of inquiry and reasoning, and that shapes the eventual case,” he said.

“Whether it’s against a correctional officer, a police officer, or a regular citizen — the system is inherently discriminatory against First Nations.”

The province also has a responsibility to step in and more closely observe the IIU, the province’s police watchdog, Daniels said.

“We’re always waiting for the provincial government to step in in some way, but I don’t see a lot of partnership, or even willingness, to understand the gravity of situation from the premier (Brian Pallister) or even his cabinet,” he said.

The SCO has launched an anonymous online survey to gather data from First Nations people on their experiences dealing with Manitoba police. The results of the survey will be used to inform the organization’s next moves.

In the meantime, Daniels said, the SCO would be working with the families of both men who died in custody.

“We absolutely want to see a complete and coherent investigation that brings justice.”

malak.abas@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: malakabas_

Malak Abas

Malak Abas
Reporter

Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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Updated on Thursday, March 4, 2021 10:51 PM CST: Corrects name of Headingley Correctional Centre. Adds description of IIU.

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