Mother sues government over Sask. Pen inmate’s death

Chris Van Camp died in June at Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

The mother of an inmate allegedly murdered in Saskatchewan Penitentiary is suing the federal government, saying prison authorities “failed to maintain the safeguards” to protect her ailing son.

Correctional Service of Canada, she argues, did not do enough to prevent the brutal attack that killed 37-year-old Chris Van Camp.

“CSC breached its duty to provide Mr. Van Camp with a reasonable level of security while he was under the CSC’s custody and care,” the lawsuit alleges.

“The CSC had inadequate security protocols, inadequate staff, and insufficiently trained staff to prevent the violent assault that led to Mr. Van Camp’s death.”

Lauren Laithwaite filed her statement of claim with the Court of Queen’s Bench on Monday. Van Camp, her son, was found unresponsive in his cell on June 7. Tyler Vandewater, another inmate, has been charged with murder in connection with his death.

According to Laithwaite, Van Camp overdosed on cocaine laced with fentanyl while he was out in parole in May. He spent days in a coma. A short time later, Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) officials returned him to custody for violating his conditions. Laithwaite argues that they breached their duty when they quickly returned him to general population at Saskatchewan Penitentiary.

“The CSC knowingly placed the ill, weakened, and highly vulnerable Mr. Van Camp into the general population of the Saskatchewan Penitentiary,” her statement reads.

“The CSC knew, or ought to have known that after such a severe medical event, Mr. Van Camp had to remain in hospital for treatment, and that he was not fit for discharge, especially not into the general population of a federal prison.”

She alleges that an assistant warden at the federal institution told her that “Chris has been returned to exactly where he came from.”

The statement also cites records that supposedly reveal that Vandewater was known to be a “notoriously violent inmate.”

“Parole Board of Canada documents warned that this prisoner was likely to kill someone if released before the end of his sentence,” the statement of claim alleges.

At the time of the attack, the suit further alleges, prison authorities were unprepared.

“During the alleged assault that killed Mr. Van Camp, no corrections officers intervened. The prison also did not have adequate personnel or sufficiently trained staff to respond to the situation,” it reads.

The statement of claim includes a number of other allegations not directly related to the attack itself. It faults the prison for allegedly failing to control the availability of drugs inside the institution.

“In the hospital,” the document reads, “Mr. Van Camp formally disclosed to his mother and his parole officer that during his stay in prison, he had reliable access to drugs, and that he would use ‘anything he could get his hands on’”

Laithwaite’s suit argues that Correctional Service of Canada should have known that her son suffered from substance abuse problems. She claims that they either “facilitated” or were “willfully blind” to his addiction.

“CSC failed to diligently police the prison’s internal drug economy that allowed Mr. Van Camp to continue using drugs while incarcerated,” the statement reads.

It also claims that the agency was “setting Mr. Van Camp up for failure upon release” by not providing adequate support and addictions programming during his parole. Rearresting him under these conditions, according to the statement, showed “bad faith and reckless disregard” for her son.

Laithwaite’s lawsuit seeks “aggravated and punitive damages” for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of Charter rights and assault and battery. It names CSC and the federal attorney general as defendants, but does not specify a specific monetary amount.

None of the allegations in her statement have been proven in court.