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Gwich'in Tribal Council launches wrongful-death lawsuit for Eddie Snowshoe

Eddie Snowshoe died by suicide in 2010 after being locked up in isolation for 163 days between two prisons. He had previously attempted suicide numerous times. Photo courtesy Snowshoe family.

Gwich'in Tribal Council is joining with the family of Eddie Snowshoe in a lawsuit seeking restitution for his death while in custody.

"Eddie Snowshoe was a 24-year old Gwich’in man that suffered a cruel, inhumane and degrading form of brutality being subjected to 163 days of segregation at various facilities while in the custody of the Canadian Correctional Service (CCS)," reads the release. "This segregation along with the complete disregard of Eddie’s mental health and failure to follow protocols resulted in his wrongful death on August 13, 2010 by suicide at the Edmonton Institution,which is a maximum security facility.

"Eddie Snowshoe’s treatment by CCS and his wrongful death resulted from systemic discrimination against him as an Indigenous person present in Canada’s federal institutions.

"There were numerous breaches of Eddie’s rights while an inmate by the staff and administration of the CCS. The illegal actions by the CCS are demonstrated by the numerous breaches of law that occurred while Eddie was in segregation where he was refused basic necessities such as toilet paper during this time period."

GTC Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik said they are actioning a claim on behalf of the family working with external legal counsel as well as providing emotional support for the family. The family is seeking $12.5 million in damages.

Snowshoe died by hanging in 2010 while serving a five-year sentence for an attempted robbery near Inuvik in 2007. At the time of his death, he had been in solitary confinement for 162 days.

He was only at the Drumheller Institution in Alberta for 28 days before he first attempted suicide. He was placed on suicide watch and was recovering for a time. Eventually, he was sent to the O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi Healing Lodge in Manitoba. The Cree-oriented healing lodge was expected to help him in his rehabilitation, but according to the investigation he felt more alienated by the drum dancing. Eventually, he left a dummy in his bed and attempted escape. He was then transferred to Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba.

Another suicide attempt followed 27 days later. Then, on Feb. 4 Snowshoe was given medical attention for several cuts on his arms. The investigation noted he told hospital staff he had intended to bleed out, but the blood clotted too quickly. He then attempted to hang himself and when that failed, then called for medical support.

Snowshoe attempted suicide once more before an incident, where he turned a juice box inside our and brandished it towards the guards — who say they felt threatened. He was placed in isolation, where he remained for 134 days until transferred to the Edmonton Institution — a maximum security prison. There he was immediately placed in handcuffs and put back into isolation, where he remained until his death.

Part of the lawsuit claims Correctional Services failed to meet several obligations in putting Snowshoe in isolation, including a review five days later and a further review within 30 days and every 30 days afterwards. The plaintiffs say none of this was done. Snowshoe had written personally to the Edmonton Institution asking to be let out of isolation — that letter was also ignored.

"The pain and suffering unnecessarily inflicted by CCS through their actions and ultimately inaction, upon Eddie’s family, his mother Effie and brothers Herbie, Ian and Peter, has caused irreparable harm to the family," said Kyikavichik. "Eddie’s undying love for his mother and brothers is what kept him alive for so long while enduring this cruel form of administrative torture and was essentially forgotten despite repeated attempts by his mother, Effie, for the CCS to take action which were ultimately ignored”.

An investigation by the Office of the Correctional Investigator between 2011 and 2014 found that 14 out of 30 suicides in custody were done while in isolation. Among 11 recommendations from the report is a recommendation that "Long-term segregation of seriously mentally ill, self-injurious or suicidal inmates should be expressly prohibited."

About the Author: Eric Bowling

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