The NDP is adding its voice to calls for a public inquiry following the death of a 36-year-old Mi’kmaw woman in provincial custody last week.

As the Halifax Examiner reported on Friday, Sarah Rose Denny died in hospital on March 26. The mother of two had been in custody at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, the provincial jail in Burnside, and died in hospital.

Shirley Tuplin, Denny’s lifelong friend and a relative, told the Examiner she died of pneumonia. Denny was the second Mi’kmaw person to die in a provincial jail this year. Peter Paul, 27, died in the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in January.

Denny’s family and the Elizabeth Fry Society of Mainland Nova Scotia are calling for a public inquiry into the two deaths.

Wellness Within, a non-profit “that serves women, transgender, and nonbinary people who have experienced criminalization and are pregnant or have young children in Nova Scotia,” is also calling for an inquiry.

“Since 2019, we have been demanding a fatality review for all deaths in custody and public institutions,” the group said in a news release on Monday.

“We urge the Houston government to create an independent body to provide ongoing monitoring of conditions of confinement in Nova Scotia jails. This watchdog organization would play a role similar to the Office of the Correctional Investigator for federal institutions. This transparency is essential to ensure that the human rights of some of the most vulnerable members of our society are being upheld.”

NDP MLA calls for inquiry

Lisa Lachance, the MLA for Halifax Citadel-Sable Island, is the NDP’s L’nu Affairs spokesperson.

“I don’t think we think of people dying of pneumonia, especially young people, very often,” Lachance said in an interview Monday.

“What happened? I mean, it was a failure of the health system and of the justice system. So what happened? We need to understand.”

A person with shoulder length hair and glasses speaks to a person with long hair, out of focus in the foreground.
NDP MLA Lisa Lachance speaks during a Law Amendments Committee meeting in Halifax on Monday. Credit: Zane Woodford

Lachance said there’s been no increase in spending on health care in provincial jails, and they’re concerned about the standard of care in those facilities.

“Over the years we’ve heard, so often, concerns about lack of access to health care, delayed access to health care,” Lachance said.

“This is just a tragedy that brings that concern in focus.”

A man wearing a suit and tie and glasses clasps his hands while looking ahead.
Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns chairs a meeting of the Law Amendments Committee in Halifax on Monday. Credit: Zane Woodford

Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns doesn’t share that concern, he said when asked on Monday.

“Particularly with the Burnside unit I mean, there is a health unit that’s there on site, and so not in general,” Johns said.

Internal investigation underway

Johns said he couldn’t talk about the details of Denny’s case due to privacy concerns, but that there is an internal investigation underway. He wouldn’t commit to any inquiry until that process is complete. He said that would take about two weeks.

“It’s really kind of premature to say anything until I get a report back on the circumstances and all the details on this, but we’ll make a decision after we hear back,” Johns said.

Johns said he has received the results of an investigation into Paul’s death in January.

“There wasn’t anything that staffing or anybody did that was out of the ordinary,” he said.

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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