Congress of Aboriginal Peoples says prison system failed to address Curtis McKenzie’s struggle with mental health and addictions
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) is calling for improvements to the well-being of Correctional Service Canada (CSC) prisoners following the death of a Saskatchewan Penitentiary inmate.
In a Tuesday news release, CSC reported Curtis McKenzie died in custody on Monday.
The 27-year-old was serving a federal sentence of two years and one day for breach of recognizance and break and enter into a non-dwelling house. The sentence commenced on May 30, 2018.
CAP claims McKenzie died by suicide, although CSC was unable to confirm his cause of death.
CAP said he struggling with his mental health and addictions stemming back to incidents from his childhood. The release said McKenzie survived abuse in the foster care system.
National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin, a former justice of the peace, said he supported McKenzie as an outreach worker.
Before being re-incarcerated for drug use, explained Beaudin, McKenzie was also getting help from STR8 Up, which works with ex-gang members and their families so they can move forward on a healthier path.
Beaudin said signing Section 810 of the Criminal Code—known as peace bonds—“was his death sentence.”
According to the Department of Justice, a peace bond is used when someone appears likely to commit a criminal offence, but there are no reasonable grounds to believe an actual offence is committed.
The peace bond may come with conditions. If the defendant doesn’t obey them, he or she may face criminal charges.
McKenzie signed a peace bond shortly after his release in 2018, which he breached by methamphetamine intoxication.
In a November 2019 article in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, McKenzie said his time under the peace bond was stressful. He said he felt like he was constantly being watched and he didn’t feel free.
“I hope they don’t do it to me again,” said McKenzie.
Beaudin said he’s “deeply disturbed” by McKenzie’s death.
“I know that he cried out for help and Correctional Service Canada refused to acknowledge that he was suicidal. I believe CSC was derelict in their duties.”
CAP claimed the CSC has “very little” resources for mental and physical health, addictions treatment or Indigenous healing.
“How many times has the corrections system failed Indigenous people?” questioned Beaudin.
“He was struggling with trauma, mental health issues and addiction, and not once received proper care from Correctional Service Canada. His mental health deteriorated after CSC put him in extended solitary confinement.”
“He needed treatment, not torment.”
CAP called for an inquest into McKenzie’s death to be conducted by the Saskatchewan Coroner, saying “the system failed him.”
According to CSC, over the five fiscal years from 2011/2012 to 2015/2016, an average of 58 deaths occurred in custody per year. Natural causes accounted for more than half of those deaths, and suicide was the most common type of unnatural cause.
The CSC then holds a Board of Investigation (BOI), which will always include a community member. BOIs and coroners inquests act as an opportunity for the CSC to improve how it cares for inmates in custody.
Last month, an inquest into the death of Saskatchewan Penitentiary inmate Curtis Cozart was held at the Coronet Hotel.
Cozart, 30, was found hanging and unresponsive in his cell shortly after 11 p.m. on May 23, 2017. He died the following day.
The inquest ended with the six-person jury making four recommendations, including having better policy briefings and that guards carry their 911 tools after lockup.
— with Daily Herald files from Peter Lozinski and Saskatoon StarPhoenix files from Thia James