Nova Scotia Health has filed its defence in relation to the death of Sarah Rose Denny while she was in provincial custody.

As Zane Woodford reported earlier this year, Denny, 36, a mother of two, died in hospital on March, 26 2023. She was taken to the hospital from the East Unit of the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

Shirley Tuplin, a friend of Denny’s told the Examiner Denny was placed into custody after she missed a meeting with a parole officer.

Woodford reported in August that lawyer Emma Halpern, on behalf of Denny’s parents, Katherine and Reginald, and her two sons, filed notice of action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court alleging provincial staff at the jail wrote off her symptoms as alcohol withdrawl. Denny’s symptoms included coughing up blood.

From Woodford’s story:

“During the time Sarah was incarcerated at the Facility, she repeatedly informed the employees of the Facility that she was ill and requested to see a physician,” Halpern wrote.

“Her illness worsened and over the next few days Sarah experienced swelling of the hands and feet, severe back pain, and she was limping. While under the care of the Defendants, Sarah stopped eating, and could not gather the energy needed to stand up or leave her cell. She also lost feeling in her legs completely. Sarah and another woman incarcerated at the Facility made multiple requests for Sarah to see a doctor, but Sarah was never assessed or treated by healthcare.”

Halpern wrote that Denny reported her symptoms to a Nova Scotia Health nurse at the jail.

“The nurse told Sarah she believed Sarah was in withdrawal from alcohol and ignored her other symptoms,” Halpern wrote.

“Sarah’s symptoms got progressively worse, and she could not eat or drink on her own. A woman incarcerated in the cell next to Sarah’s made multiple requests for medical attention on her behalf, to no avail.”‘

‘Discrimination based on addiction’

The statement of claim said that as Denny coughed up blood, a Nova Scotia Health employee “determined Sarah was in alcohol withdrawal and made no further assessments or referrals.”

Halpern wrote that a woman in the cell next to Denny’s wiped the flood off her face.

Halpern wrote that Denny’s death was a the result of negligence on the part of Nova Scotia, and that the care provided to Denny “fell below the standard of care required to operate a correctional facility reasonably, safely, and competently.”

Halpern wrote that the defendants breached Denny’s charter rights. That includes discrimination based on her history of addiction, “a recognized disability.”

“The Defendants relied on Sarah’s disability to make uninformed assumptions about her illness, attributed all her symptoms to alcohol withdrawal, and did not make further assessments or attempt to diagnose her,” Halpern wrote.

“Further, the Plaintiffs state that the denial of proper medical care to Sarah Rose Denny was influenced by her identity as an Indigenous woman. The denial of state services to Indigenous women is well documented and directly impacted Sarah, exacerbating the already prevalent discrimination faced by Indigenous people within the criminal justice system. By neglecting Sarah’s urgent medical needs, the Defendants have perpetuated systemic inequalities and further marginalized her as a member of a vulnerable group, breached her Section 15 Charter rights, violating her right to equal treatment and amplifying the existing disparities faced by Indigenous women.”

The Denny’s claims haven’t been tested in court.

‘No duty of care’

As first reported in SaltWire on Oct. 11, the health authority filed its defence on Sept. 19.

In the statement of defence, the health authority said any care provided to Sarah Denny “was provided reasonably, appropriately and in a manner consistent with the applicable standard of care in the circumstances.”

Nova Scotia Health “specifically denies the allegations made against it” in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the statement of claim filed by Halpern on behalf of Denny’s parents.

Paragraph 23 of the statement of claim said that Nova Scotia Health “breached the duty of care owed to Sarah Rose Denny by failing to deliver health services reasonably, efficiently, and competently.”

Paragraph 24, meanwhile, details the ways in which Denny’s parents allege Nova Scotia Health was negligent in their daughter’s death, including that it failed to do a health assessment on Denny when she arrived at the jail, and didn’t diagnose or treat her illness, failed to listen to Denny’s request for a doctor, failing to provide timely medical care, monitor her symptoms, and failing to follow the standards of the Nursing Act.

The statement of defence said Denny’s parents and sons have “no claim for breach of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the circumstances as pleaded.”

Further, Nova Scotia Health said it owed the Dennys “no duty of care” and they “have no claim of negligence” against the authority.

Nova Scotia Health is asking that the case be dismissed with costs.

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

Join the Conversation


Only subscribers to the Halifax Examiner may comment on articles. We moderate all comments. Be respectful; whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims. Please read our Commenting Policy.
  1. I wonder who is the employer of the nurse(s) who work at the jail. If she believed that Sarah Denny was in withdrawal of alcohol, was she charting regarding a CIWA (Clinical Institute Withdrawal Assessment) scale. I would think there must have been more than one nurse involved. My daughter works in the penal system in another province and they have many nurses working shifts.
    I will be watching for answers along the way.

  2. “Nova Scotia Health said it owed the Dennys no duty of care”  

    Is it the position of the dept. that anyone incarcerated in Nova Scotia cannot expect any health care needed?  I find that statement really scary.
    I also wonder if the nurse that provided the incorrect diagnosis will be reviewed for professional conduct under provisions of the Nursing Act.  I am having a lot of difficulty believing that the decision not to refer a person coughing up blood to a doctor could conceivably be considered a professionally acceptable standard of care.