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The Saint John Law Courts building. Image: Brad Perry

Wolastoqey Nation reacts to Skyler Sappier inquest

By Brad Perry May 19, 2023 | 12:45 PM

The Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick (WNNB) is calling for an Indigenous-led inquiry into systemic racism in the province’s justice system.

It follows a coroner’s inquest this week into the death of an inmate at the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre.

Skyler Sappier, 28, died in the hospital in January 2020, two days after he was admitted.

The inquest heard he had complained about chest pain for days before being rushed to the hospital.

“There was missing oversight and a lack of compassion for him in his final days, marked by the unacceptable decision not to take his failing health seriously,” Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) Chief Ross Perley said in a statement.

The Wolastoqey Nation said this week’s inquiry revealed “critical shortcomings” within the correctional centre that contributed to Sappier’s death.

Sappier complained of chest pain at least two days before his death and told nursing staff his lungs were not working properly.

He continued to complain of chest pain and was eventually moved to a medical cell, where he reportedly was not physically checked for three hours.

“Corrections staff testified that despite having vitals that were below normal, Skyler did not look in distress, so they only continued to monitor him,” said WNNB in a news release.

“However, he was visibly short of breath, in distress and verbally expressed that his chest hurt.”

Sappier was taken to the hospital later in the day on Jan. 29, and the doctor who treated him noted he likely had pneumonia for several days.

WNNB said understaffing amid an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak within the correctional centre was highlighted several times in the testimony.

It was also revealed that correctional staff had failed to call an ambulance for Sappier, even after it was determined that he needed to go to the hospital.

“There was a shocking contrast between the compassionate, caring testimony provided by hospital staff and the level of ambivalence displayed by correctional staff in this incident,” said Perley.

“I have no faith, after sitting through this inquest, that other Indigenous people will not face the same risk to their life in provincial correctional facilities.”

Perley also called for changes to The Coroner’s Act to improve the overall inquest process.

Unlike other jurisdictions, a victim’s loved ones are not given standing in the inquest in New Brunswick.

That meant they were not allowed to hear details of Sappier’s death before the process began.

“No one should have to go through what Skyler’s family did this week,” said Perley.

The inquest made a number of recommendations for the Saint John Regional Correctional Centre. You can find the full list by clicking here.


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