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Investigate Indigenous man's death in B.C. prison as hate crime, says advocate

Prisoner and Indigenous rights advocates allege that Kendal Campeau was abused by guards in prison before his death.

Update: Prisoner’s Legal Service wishes to clarify that Campeau’s family alleges that he was abused by correctional officers in Saskatchewan some time prior to his transfer to BC in 2019.

They do not allege he was abused by officers in BC before his death. They say, however, there is evidence this historical abuse was on his mind around the time that he died, and they have called for CSC to consider as part of their investigation what impact this and other traumas had on him and what role they may have played in his death.

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. – A 31-year-old Saskatchewan Indigenous man died in Pacific Institution and Indigenous advocates are calling on his death to be investigated as a hate crime.

Kendal Lee Campeau from Yellow Quill First Nation was found unresponsive in his cell on Nov. 14, 2021, from methadone toxicity and taken to an outside hospital but returned to the prison where he died later the same day. Pacific Institution is in Abbotsford, British Columbia, approximately 80 kilometres east of Vancouver. Yellow Quill First Nation is part of Saskatoon Tribal Council. 

“Not only should there be an inquest into Mr. Campeau’s death, but police should investigate several incidents as hate crimes and sexual assaults,” said Kim Beaudin, national vice-chief for Congress of Aboriginal Peoples based in Ottawa, Ont.

Likewise, Nicole Kief, legal advocate and human rights lead for Prisoner’s Legal Services based in Burnaby, B.C., wants answers from Correctional Services of Canada.

“His death in the custody of CSC adds to the long list of Indigenous people who have died in colonial prisons in Canada,” said Kief. “We urge CSC to consider Mr. Campeau’s death in prison as part of Canada’s history of forcibly separating Indigenous families and the mass incarceration of Indigenous peoples.”

Kief said Campeau’s life and death represent many of the systemic issues experienced by Indigenous people in prison, including classification to higher levels of security, having his “Indigenous social history” used against him, transfer to prisons far away from his family and community, the use of prolonged solitary confinement, and violent assaults and abuse allegedly by correctional officers or facilitated by officers.

“He was transferred away from his family in Saskatchewan to B.C. in 2019 after he was violently assaulted in prison," said Kief. "In B.C. he was violently assaulted again and placed in a Structured Intervention Unit before being transferred to Pacific Institution."

A spokesperson from CSC told Monday that a review of Campeau’s death was ordered. CSC’s Board of Investigation is examining Campeau’s care and treatment beginning in 2019. The BOI appointed investigators to review and establish the facts, actions, and circumstances surrounding Campeau’s death. The investigation includes a member of the community as a board member, and an Indigenous individual.

“CSC reviews the circumstances surrounding these incidents to determine if practices need improvement, contributing to preventing similar incidents in the future,” said Marie Pier Lécuyer, senior media relations advisor for Correctional Service Canada.

“BOIs offer an opportunity for CSC to improve the way we manage inmates under our care and custody.”

Pier Lécuyer said the investigation is underway, the process is quite extensive and takes several months to complete. The BOI report is expected to be finalized in March 2023.

History of abuse

Warning: Readers may find details disturbing

Campeau had a long history of being harmed by colonial systems.

“Although he came from a loving family and did not experience any abuse in his home, he was removed from his family and placed in foster care at the age of 10,” said Kief. “His mother unsuccessfully attempted to regain custody. He spent time in group homes, where he was abused, including being forcibly held down in restraints. At the age of 12 a police dog attacked him and tore his arm.”

Kief alleges Campeau was also abused by guards in prison.

“Campeau suffered extensive abuse by correctional officers.”

She alleges guards had used the end of a mop to rape him and he couldn’t have a bowel movement or sit for weeks while he was in the hole [segregation] due to the damage. Kief said he spoke to his family about this incident one week prior to his death.

In another incident, a guard allegedly gave Campeau a razor blade and “tormented him into thinking that he was a waste of life and encouraged him to end his life,” said Kief, adding that guards would stand there and watch as he cut his arms and legs.

Kief said Campeau’s records indicate that he attempted suicide when he was in segregation in 2019.

“Medical staff believed he had been sexually assaulted, and his records note he was found crying in the shower, having slashed his arm and thigh severely enough to require treatment at outside hospital,” said Kief. “Prior to this incident, CSC health providers had repeatedly signed off on Mr. Campeau’s continued isolation.”

Beaudin said despite Campeau's attempt on his life, officials kept him in isolation where his condition deteriorated.

Pier Lécuyer said CSC employees are expected to act according to legal and ethical standards, and are subject to the rules of professional conduct and code of discipline. 

“CSC does not tolerate any breach of its policies and allegations that are brought forward are investigated.”

Pier Lécuyer said CSC’s priority is to protect the physical and mental health and overall safety of those who live and work within the federal correctional institutions.

“Enhancing prevention and intervention for offenders with suicidal behaviours is a continuous goal for CSC.”

She said all inmates are screened for suicide risk within 24 hours of their arrival at an institution.

“This screening also occurs throughout an offender's sentence.”

Assessments are provided for inmates at risk for suicidal vulnerabilities to ensure appropriate intervention and monitoring. CSC has developed an overarching strategy to approach suicide prevention and intervention consistently based on three pillars: prevention, intervention, and postintervention.

“This overarching strategy includes training and continuous development for CSC staff, as well as a continuum of prevention and intervention actions from admission and throughout the offenders' sentence,” said Pier Lécuyer.

In terms of training, CSC staff who interact with offenders, including correctional officers are provided with suicide and self-injury intervention training and continuous development, and are trained to respond immediately to preserve life and prevent bodily harm.

Pier Lécuyer reiterated that CSC employees are expected to act according to legal and ethical standards, and are subject to the rules of professional conduct and code of discipline.

“CSC does not tolerate any breach of its policies and all allegations are thoroughly investigated regardless of the source and appropriate action is taken. CSC employees are expected to carry out their duties with professionalism and consistently with our policies and mission – and of course, the law.”

PLS also accused CSC’s response to Campeau - when he submitted grievances - as being cursory.

Pier Lécuyer said CSC can't comment on the specifics of an offender’s case but added that inmates have a number of avenues to report concerns when they believe they have been treated unfairly by a staff member, or in a manner that is not consistent with legislation or policy on matters within the jurisdiction of the Commissioner.

She said one of these avenues is the Offender Complaint and Grievance Process.

“Complaints and grievances containing allegations of mistreatment by staff are taken seriously. These types of allegations are investigated at the institutional level where any wrongdoings or inappropriate behaviours are addressed accordingly.”

Offenders have the ability to escalate responses to complaints and initial grievances to the National level at which time the investigation completed at the institution is reviewed to determine whether legislation and policy was adhered to, so that corrective action can be directed where required, added Pier Lécuyer.

According to CSC, Campeau was serving a seven year and five month sentence for assault - intentional use of force, escape lawful custody, possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking, and robbery-related offences stemming from August 2018. 

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