OTTAWA – A First Nations advocate is calling on Correctional Services of Canada [CSC] to conduct a public inquiry into Cassandra Fox’s death at a healing lodge and provide more mental health support for Indigenous people incarcerated.
On Jan. 18 Cassandra Fox died while in custody at Okimaw Ohci Healing Lodge, according to CSC.
“CAP continues to call on Correctional Services Canada to ensure adequate mental health supports is available, to end isolation and other practices listed as 'torture,' and to fulfill their obligations to ensure the safety of inmates under their care,” said Congress of Aboriginal Peoples Vice Chief Kim Beaudin in a prepared statement Wednesday.
Beaudin wants CSC's review into Sweetgrass First Nation resident 27-year-old Fox's death to be held immediately and be open to the public.
In addition, he said CSC must take immediate measures to address what he called an epidemic of suicide among Indigenous inmates in CSC custody due to inaction and a failure to provide effective, culturally appropriate supports administered by Indigenous people themselves.
CSC said that as in all cases involving the death of an inmate, CSC will review the circumstances and their policy requires that the police and coroner be notified.
“The Correctional Service of Canada takes the death of an inmate very seriously,” said Roxane Braun, CSC spokesperson for Regional Headquarters Prairies. “The loss of life is always a tragedy.”
SASKTODAY.ca attended Fox’s sentencing hearing on Nov. 21, 2022, and court heard that she was a victim of the residential school system.
Beaudin said there is an epidemic of suicide among Indigenous inmates in CSC care.
“During her [sentencing hearing], the court heard how Ms. Fox was the descendent of survivors of Government funded residential schools who struggled with addictions, and faced numerous Gladue factors in her life,” said Beaudin. “Before being transferred to Okimaw Ohci, she was held in over-crowded conditions at Pine Grove Correctional Center, where she contracted COVID-19.”
Beaudin said Fox’s suicide follows numerous other self-harm and suicide incidents among Indigenous people in CSC institutions, such as the deaths of Kendal Campeau and Curtis McKenzie. He said CSC has acknowledged six inmate deaths so far in January of 2023 alone.
“Healing lodges were never meant to be CSC institutions,” added Beaudin. “They were meant to be operated by Indigenous communities themselves, to help heal the trauma of genocide and racism and discrimination. The continued refusal to properly fund Indigenous communities to operate Healing Lodges themselves undermines the whole purpose of this institution, and puts inmate lives at risk.”
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