Warning, this article is about self-harm and suicide. Anyone in need of mental health services can call the NWT’s mental health hotline at 1-800-661-0844.
The family of a Fort McPherson man is seeking justice for “the wrongful death” of their loved one who died in federal custody.
Edward “Eddie” Christopher Snowshoe spent the final 164 days of his life in prison segregation — essentially solitary confinement — which is prohibited, according to the United Nation’s Mandela rules.
Snowshoe, was a 24-year-old member of the Teetl’it Gwich’in First Nation. He was a son as well as the older brother to three siblings and was four months away from finishing a prison sentence when he died by suicide, reads the statement of claim.
Snowshoe was serving a five-year sentence for robbing and shooting a cab driver in 2007. He spent time at the medium security Stony Mountain Institution in Manitoba before being transferred to the high security Edmonton Institution.
His mother, Effie Snowshoe, filed the lawsuit in Alberta on Wednesday, 11 years after the tragic incident. Those being sued include the Attorney General of Canada, the two prisons and Correctional Service Canada.
The family is seeking $12.5 million in damages.
Over 160 days in segregation
Snowshoe was placed in segregation on March 2, 2010, for brandishing a “jail-made stabbing weapon” which was a juice box turned inside-out.
Snowshoe had attempted suicide four times before being placed in segregation, the lawsuit alleges.
“Despite his self-injurious behaviour, Eddie was not provided access to health care or psychiatric services. Instead, he was left in segregation for a period of over 160 consecutive days. The Defendants knew this inhumane treatment would cause Eddie’s mental health conditions to worsen,” the documents read.
The court documents also allege the prison staff failed to complete compulsory reviews of Snowshoe’s mental condition during the segregation.
Reviews were completed after five and 30 days, but the following reviews were “not chaired by the appropriate officials.”
Snowshoe was transferred to the Edmonton Institution after serving 134 days in segregation at Stony Mountain Institution.
He took part in a review before entering the Edmonton Institution, where he disclosed the previous suicide attempts. The information was sent to the psychology department for a follow-up — none occurred, according to the statement of claim. It also alleges correction staff were not made aware of Snowshoe’s condition.
On the day Snowshoe arrived at the Edmonton Institution, he wrote to the warden requesting he be placed in the general population. The request wasn’t discovered until two months after his death.
Additionally, the statement of claim says the transfer caused Snowshoe’s segregation clock to reset to zero despite having served over 130 days. Which resulted in the reviews not being done.
The lawsuit claims the defendants acted in negligence, and that they failed to ensure his health and safety while he was in custody.
“The Defendants’ conduct caused Eddie to experience severe mental suffering and injury,” the court document reads.
Support from Gwich’in Tribal Council
The Gwich’in Tribal Council issued a press release on Wednesday stating it stands with the Snowshoe family.
“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,” says Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik.
The press release adds, “His wrongful death resulted from systemic discrimination against him as an Indigenous person present in Canada’s federal institutions.”
A three-year review of inmate suicides in federal prisons found 14 of 30 suicides occurred in segregation cells.
It also found that most of those had previously attempted suicide as well as a documented mental health issue.