Mi’kmaw mother’s death in Nova Scotia jail to be investigated by new committee

MI'kmaw mother

Sarah Denny in an undated photo. Photo courtesy Kathy Denny

The mother of a Mi’kmaw woman who died in a Nova Scotia jail in March says her daughter’s death will be one of two investigations conducted by a new committee set up by the Ministry of Justice.

According to the province, the committee will have the authority to access personal and health records held by the province or other “public bodies.”

“A good step, long way to go still,” said Kathy Denny, whose daughter Sarah, a mother of two, died in jail of double pneumonia on March 26. Denny said she was notified about Sarah’s investigation by Nova Scotia Justice Minister Brad Johns.

“Hoping the committee will find the gaps in healthcare services in correctional facilities and improve policies and legislation. I have several recommendations myself that I wish to put forward.

“And I am glad the families will be involved to voice their concerns.”

According to a June 28 release, the new committee that investigates deaths in custody will examine “the facts and circumstances leading up to a death and make recommendations to the Justice Minister to help prevent similar deaths in the future.”

The committee will examine Denny’s death – and one other. It’s not clear whose death is being investigated. The province isn’t releasing the names because of privacy laws.

“The death of a person in custody is heartbreaking for families and their community, and it’s concerning to me as Minister,” said Johns in the statement. “The Deaths-in-Custody Review Committee will provide answers in the tragic event that someone in one of our provincial correctional facilities dies suddenly and unexpectedly.”

Death of Mi’kmaq people in jail

The last time Denny spoke with her daughter Sarah was on March 21.

Sarah was sick. Her mother said she told authorities about her illness.

“I said did you see the doctor yet? And she goes ‘no not yet,’” Kathy told APTN in a previous interview about the conversation with her daughter.

On March 26, police notified her about Sarah’s death.

“They knocked on the door I said ‘what’s going on?’ Sarah died, looked at me and Sarah died. I said, ‘What?’”

The other person from the Eskasoni First Nation to die in a provincial jail was Peter Paul, 27.

He was taken to hospital after being found unresponsive in a Cape Breton jail. He died in hospital on Jan. 28, 2023.

In June, Paul’s brother Gilbert told APTN that a public inquiry was needed to prevent more deaths in custody.

“It’s very hard to get information right now, but we retained a lawyer and we wrote to the justice minister the attorney general the premier, Tim Houston, we also wrote to him as well we are calling for a Mi’kmaw-led fatality inquiry,” he said.

Read More:

‘Why did my daughter die?’ Mi’kmaw mother demands inquiry into Nova Scotia jail 

Halifax rally calls for public inquiry into the deaths of 2 Mi’kmaw people in custody 

According to the province, the investigations undertaken by the committee will eventually be made public.

The Deaths-in-Custody Review Committee will be chaired by Dr. Matt Bowes, the province’s chief medical examiner and other “experts” including a Crown attorney, RCMP officer and member of the M’kmaw and African Nova Scotia communities will be involved.

“Death review committees allow for a more timely, in-depth review of the deaths that occur,” said Bowes in the release. “It’s my hope the families find some comfort and confidence from the findings of a death review committee and know that the death of their loved one has been independently examined by experts.”

The release said theThe province said “the committee will provide an annual report to the Minister that includes a description of trends and a summary of recommendations for system improvements annual reports will be public.”

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