Lawyer for Indigenous man who died in N.L. jail renews calls for public inquiry

JOHN’S — Newfoundland and Labrador’s director of public prosecutions says a decision is expected “fairly soon” on whether anyone will face charges for the death of an Indigenous man in a provincial jail.

In an interview Monday, Lloyd Strickland said he couldn’t say much more, but confirmed the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has been in contact with his office as they investigated the death of Jonathan Henoche at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary in St. John’s.

Henoche, an Indigenous man from Labrador, died Nov. 6, 2019 in the facility following a reported altercation with corrections officers. Shortly after, police announced his death was being investigated as a homicide.

On the anniversary of his death Friday, the lawyer representing Henoche’s family renewed his call for an independent public inquiry. Bob Buckingham says after a year of demonstrations and discussions highlighting systemic racism in Canada’s justice system, an inquiry into the circumstances of Henoche’s death is all the more urgent.

“We’ve now seen this incident in the context of national statistics,” Buckingham said in an interview. “We see the over-incarceration of Indigenous people . . . the lack of mental health services in the prisons, the lack of understanding of race issues and the amount of racism in our institutions.”

He’d like an inquiry to examine what role racism played in Henoche’s death and whether corrections officers have adequate training to deal with inmates who have complex mental health issues. He’s also calling on Indigenous leaders in the province to ask questions about whether racism in the province’s correctional system contributed to Henoche’s death.

In an emailed statement Monday, the provincial Justice Department said there are no plans for an inquiry. Buckingham said he’s disappointed but not surprised by the response.

A spokesman for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary said the investigation into Henoche’s death is ongoing.

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