Mark King Jeffrey was supposed to spend many years in prison.
The man from Iqaluit was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 14 years for the brutal murder of a 13-year-old girl at her home in the capital of Nunavut in 2002.
But in June 2015, Jeffrey, 34, committed suicide while in solitary confinement at Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont.
He had been in segregation for 74 days.
From November 22 to December 1, the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario conducted an inquest into Jeffrey’s death. The jury delivered its verdict on Jeffrey’s death on Wednesday and made recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
An inquest is a public hearing into the circumstances of a death conducted by a coroner before a jury. A death in custody automatically triggers an investigation, unless the person has died of natural causes.
“He lost hope”
For eight days, jurors learned how Jeffrey had been crushed by a correctional system supposed to rehabilitate him.
“He has lost hope in a system that cannot accommodate the fact that he is an Inuit with a family in the North,” said Kate Forget, lawyer for the coroner for Dr. Steven Bodley, in her closing brief.
“He lost hope in a system that limited his access to his culture, his elders and his Inuit community.
Forget urged the jury to consider Jeffrey’s death in the historical context of colonial policies that separated Inuit from their culture and communities.
Delora Deravi, counsel for the Correctional Service of Canada, said in her closing brief that “Jeffrey’s Inuit background was central to his treatment” and that he had been “supported spiritually and psychologically, and had been screened for suicidal tendencies ”.
Deravi said correctional staff were receiving “Inuit culture awareness training” and the services available to Inuit incarcerated at Beaver Creek had improved in recent years, in part because of Jeffrey’s death.
She reminded the jury that Parliament ended the practice of solitary confinement in 2019.
Jeffrey spent even more time in isolation
The jury heard testimony from people who knew and worked with Jeffrey in the prison.
They learned that Jeffrey had committed a horrific crime, but had made progress during his incarceration, becoming chairman of the Inuit Inmate Committee and the carving workshop.
They were shown notes that Jeffrey wrote on his own before he died about stereotypes and racism, and the disappearance of his hometown of Iqaluit.
Jeffrey was a “proud Inuk,” who championed the causes of other Inuit in custody, said Christa Big Canoe, an Indigenous Legal Services lawyer, who was qualified to participate in the investigation.
However, she said in her closing brief, Jeffrey struggled when the supports offered to him were “generic and not specific to his identity, and we see him make a mistake.”
This error occurred in 2015, when Jeffrey was caught using gabapentin, a non-narcotic anti-epileptic drug that is sometimes used to treat anxiety. He was sent to solitary confinement, where he will remain until the day of his death.
The coroner’s office said Jeffrey was exposed as an informant in 2012 and corrections kept him in segregation three years later because there were inmates at the jail who posed a risk to his safety .
Forget said Jeffrey faced the prospect of at least another month in isolation, as well as moving from his Inuit-specific prison to a non-Inuit prison in British Columbia, even further from his home.
Prison did not listen to Inuit staff, says Inuit Tungasuvvingat
“As an Inuk who has lived in Iqaluit for most of my life, participating in this survey has been very difficult,” Amanda Kilabuk said during the survey, while holding back tears.
Kilabuk is the Executive Director of Tungasuvvingat Inuit, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that provides support to Inuit living in the South.
“Not only was the subject difficult, but it also touched closely. We have heard that suicide is a lived reality for all Inuit.
Kilabuk said the investigation learned that the Beaver Creek facility described itself as an “Inuit Center of Excellence,” but did not listen to and consult with Inuit staff when making decisions.
“When an Inuit center of excellence is designated, there should be higher expectations of this institution to support its Inuit staff and to ensure that Inuit in detention have access to Inuit-specific resources. ”Said Kilabuk in his closing brief.
We have heard that suicide is a reality experienced by all Inuit. – Amanda Kilabuk, Executive Director of Tungasuvvingat Inuit
She asked the jury to reflect on Jeffrey’s death in light of the policies of the colonial government that forced the Inuit to resettle in the High Arctic.
“In the context of corrections, Inuit in custody are forced to be physically moved outside Inuit Nunangat where we have heard that physical visits with their loved ones are impossible, disabling necessary family and community relationships. healing, ”she said.
The jury made 19 recommendations. Among them, that correctional services ensure that Inuit in federal custody are able to maintain their family and community ties, and that they hire more Inuit staff in Inuit-specific establishments, such as Beaver Creek.
It also recommended that all staff who work with Inuit populations receive ongoing training in the history of colonialism and intergenerational trauma, and that corrections investigate the feasibility of creating Inuit healing lodges.
“We are incredibly pleased with the work the jury has put into this case,” Forget, the coroner’s lawyer, told CBC News. She said the recommendations were strong and would help prevent future deaths like Jeffrey’s.
In an email, the correctional service said it would review the recommendations and plan to give a written response to the coroner’s office in the coming months.
“We continually monitor and evaluate all of our policies and programs, including those related to recommendations,” wrote a spokesperson for corrections.