Warning: This report covers issues related to suicide.
More than a decade after he died in an Edmonton federal prison, the family of Edward “Eddie” Snowshoe filed a claim seeking restitution and an apology for his wrongful death.
Eddie Snowshoe, from Fort McPherson and a member of the Teetl’it Gwich’in First Nation, was 24 when he took his own life in 2010. He had spent 163 consecutive days – more than five months – in solitary confinement at Manitoba’s Stony Mountain Institution and the Edmonton Institution.
On Wednesday, his mother Effie filed a claim in Alberta on behalf of her son’s estate against the two prisons, Correctional Service Canada, and the federal attorney general.
The document claims the defendants inflicted mental suffering, were negligent, broke laws and regulations, and falsely imprisoned Snowshoe. The claim seeks $12.5 million in damages.
In a statement, the Gwich’in Tribal Council expressed its support for the Snowshoe family and said his “wrongful death resulted from systemic discrimination against him as an Indigenous person present in Canada’s federal institutions.”
“All legal options for the family are being sought while seeking the transformation that is required in Canadian correctional services, particularly for young Indigenous inmates such as Eddie,” Grand Chief Ken Kyikavichik told Cabin Radio.
“The Gwich’in Tribal Council believes that our and other Indigenous people across Canada deserve better and the family deserves an apology.”
Kyikavichik said the council worked with the Snowshoe family to finalize the statement of claim and paid for external legal counsel during the process.
Failure to assess, provide support
In the claim, filed to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, the family states staff at the Stony Mountain Institution were aware Snowshoe suffered severe mental health issues. The claim states he had attempted suicide three times, had engaged in self-harm while at the facility, and had been placed on suicide watch.
“Despite his self-injurious behaviour, Eddie was not provided access to health care or psychiatric services,” the document reads.
Snowshoe was placed in confinement – also known as segregation – after “brandishing a jail-made stabbing weapon” at staff, which turned out to be a juice box turned inside out. He was transferred to the Edmonton Institution, a maximum-security prison, a month before his death in 2015.
The claim states Snowshoe disclosed his previous suicide attempts to staff at that point but received no follow-up from health professionals before being placed back into confinement under “handcuff status.”
A 2014 inquiry into Snowshoe’s death by the Alberta government found the facilities had failed to conduct required regular reviews of individuals in segregation.
“Throughout Eddie’s incarceration, the defendants engaged in numerous contraventions of legislation and correctional policies and made numerous oversights and errors in judgment,” the Snowshoe family’s claim reads.
“In particular, the defendants’ use of extended and unlawful segregation as a discipline tool was inhumane, cruel, and unnecessarily restrictive, particularly in light of Eddie’s known mental health conditions and vulnerable condition.”
‘Transformation is required’
Snowshoe’s death has caused “irreparable harm to the family,” Grand Chief Kyikavichik said.
“The family was completely ignored, nor were they offered any remedies to provide restitution, to alleviate the pain and suffering that’s been caused,” he said. “There was absolutely no support provided to the family, and the Gwich’in Tribal Council had no option but to step up on their behalf.”
The case highlights systemic racism experienced by Indigenous peoples within federal institutions, Kyikavichik said.
“The mistreatment of Indigenous inmates in the justice system is particularly concerning, especially as it relates to this case,” he said.
“There’s transformation that’s required in the Canadian corrections service. Actions like these help to transform and put the policies and procedures in place to avoid this happening in the future.”
The defendants listed in the claim have two months to respond.