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This article was published 29/9/2017 (874 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
As an inquest to look into the death of an epileptic inmate at the Winnipeg Remand Centre draws near, signs of solidarity are cropping up across the city and beyond.
From benefit concerts to online donations to permanent ink, Winnipeggers are donating their time, money and talents to support a widowed mother of four who is searching for answers about her spouse’s in-custody death.
"There’s a precedent of answers not being given," said Wren Robertson of Justice for Errol Greene. The volunteer-run advocacy group has galvanized support for its cause from local business owners, artists, musicians and concerned citizens.
Errol Greene died May 1, 2016, after spending about three days at the Remand Centre following his arrest on a breach charge. The 26-year-old had been previously charged with mischief and was arrested April 29, 2016, for violating his court conditions, one of which prohibited him from drinking alcohol.
While he was locked up, Greene was allegedly denied access to his medication. He had two seizures that caused fatal complications, according to a lawsuit against the province of Manitoba filed on behalf of his common-law wife, Rochelle-Lynn Pranteau.
"In this instance, Rochelle really wants answers; that’s what this inquest is about – her finding answers about what actually happened. Why are there so many different versions of the story? And I think that’s something that we just really want to support her in," Robertson said.
Pranteau declined an interview request from the Free Press, but she’s been on the receiving end of donations aimed at helping the couple’s four children and covering her expenses so she can be represented at the provincial court inquest, which is set to begin in January. A GoFundMe page set up for the family has raised $850 of a $25,000 goal, and like-minded music lovers are expected to pack the West End Cultural Centre for a benefit show Oct. 3 featuring John K. Samson.
Then there are those opting for a more permanent symbol of support. About $2,000 has been raised so far through the work of local tattoo artists who have donated their time to tattoo more than 20 people with designs developed in Greene’s memory.
"That was something I could definitely get behind," said Bram Adey, an artist at Winnipeg's Rebel Waltz Tattoo who worked with Pranteau to come up with four designs. During one day last week, all of the proceeds from those tattoos went toward the cause as Adey and tattooists Vince Patrick and J.R. Harper dealt with the demand. At least one other tattoo artist in Western Canada has asked to use the designs to raise more money on Greene’s behalf, Adey said.
The designs — including an eagle feather, a medicine wheel, a dove with an olive branch, and two birds used to represent freedom in prison tattoo culture — all have their own symbolism. They represent a powerful message of permanence, Adey said.
"The issue’s not going away. People who care about inmate safety and people who care about activism don’t mind to wear that on their sleeve, generally," he said. "Tattoos are powerful for people, and people like a tattoo to have a powerful meaning.
"People just want to live in a community where they know Indigenous people aren’t being oppressed day to day by the police," Adey added. "They want to move forward. It is exciting, and cool, that it’s very grassroots."
Many of the volunteers in the Justice for Errol Greene group, which has been organizing fundraisers via Facebook, are also members of the prison abolition activist group Bar None.
"It doesn’t even have to, necessarily, be a personal connection. It’s just knowing that people who are in Remand who haven’t even (been convicted of) charges are not having their needs met," Robertson said.
"It is systemic racism. It’s not a coincidence that most of the people dying in custody are Indigenous. There’s a very obvious trend, and it’s, I think, impossible to ignore."
Pranteau’s lawyer, Corey Shefman, said the civil suit against the provincial government is on hold until the completion of the inquest, which aims to find out whether anything could have been done to prevent Greene’s death. It's set to run over the course of three weeks from January to February.
Inquests are mandatory for anyone who died in custody, but Pranteau didn’t receive provincial funding to participate in the inquest. Shefman said he is doing pro bono work on her behalf, and will be arguing the inquest should consider how systemic racism may have played into Greene’s death.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.