Yet another inquest | John L. Hill

By John L. Hill

Law360 Canada (February 1, 2021, 11:57 AM EST) --
John L. Hill
Once again, we are reading of the death of an inmate due to fentanyl overdose. CBC News is reporting on the death of 26-year-old Jordan Sheard who died at the Central East Correctional Centre (CEDC) in Lindsay, Ont. The man had a prior history of drug usage and suffered from PTSD and depression. Sheard entered the provincial detention facility on May 30, 2020, when his bail was pulled after he threatened suicide. On intake at the jail, he underwent a body scan meant to detect drugs concealed internally. Prisoners are known to tried to import contraband by hiding the foreign material in their rectums, a process they refer to as “suit casing.”

Sheard fell ill with a drug overdose as the suspected cause. He was transported to hospital, where naloxone was administered. He remained hospitalized through May 31 and returned to the CEDC. Once again, he was scanned and readmitted to the prison. He died June 1 within hours of his readmittance.

It was learned after Sheard’s death that a plastic bag containing 26 grams of fentanyl had ruptured and caused the overdose. Re-examination of the body scans showed the presence of the contraband had the scans been interpreted properly.

Ontario jails, like federal penitentiaries, are acutely aware of drugs entering the system. People entering correctional facilities undergo checks including metal detectors, ion detectors, drug-sniffing dogs and metal detectors. In 2016, Ontario’s provincial institution added body scanners costing the taxpayers $9.5 million. Body scan images are accurate if read properly by trained staff. It appears that the two scans that Sheard underwent were improperly read, possibly by staff lacking adequate training.

Was the training inadequate? One can only hope that the question and its remedy will be posed and answered at an upcoming inquest. I have my doubts.

In December 2019, I attended the inquest of Jeffrey Bruce Woodman, a 32-year-old Kitchener, Ont., man serving four years and eight months taking into consideration pretrial custody at Warkworth Institution, a federal penitentiary northeast of Cobourg, Ont. Woodman had overdosed on fentanyl and by the time his distress was spotted, lifesaving measures were unsuccessful. Correctional officers notified nursing staff who moved Woodman to the floor of his cell. CPR and defibrillation were applied. Naloxone, an antidote for opioid overdose, was administered three times intranasally and once by injection. It was later determined he had ingested three times the level of the drug considered to be toxic. He died in prison on Sept. 4, 2017.

When the inquest was called over two years later, the coroner conducting the inquest granted standing to Correctional Service Canada (CSC) and to the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers. Woodman’s family was unable to attend for health reasons, the jury was told. It was never suggested that an intervener who had knowledge of the correctional system be granted standing. The evidence painted a picture that neither the CSC nor the guards’ union could be seen to be at fault and there were no jury recommendations for improvements to the system of drug screening. The guards’ union and the CSC were the only parties with standing.

The jury learned nothing of Woodman’s prior history especially his past addiction to drugs. Drug counselling was never part of Woodman’s correctional plan. I spoke with Warkworth deputy warden Henry Saulnier who advised that drug usage was not considered as a criminogenic factor — or at least not enough of a factor. No questions were asked how drugs may have possibly entered the prison.

The jury returned with some worthwhile suggestions but nothing relating to how drug importation into prisons could be addressed.

Inquests can and should be a critical eye on our correctional system. It is only if standing is given to persons with expertise in prison law and procedure that we can be assured that we as a society are doing everything that can be done to ensure steps are taken to prevent untimely deaths.

John Hill practised and taught prison law until his retirement. He holds a J.D. from Queen’s and LL.M. in constitutional law from Osgoode Hall. Contact him at

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