By Maan Alhmidi
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO- Inmates at a Thunder Bay jail received inadequate mental health services, a psychiatrist who treated a renowned Indigenous artist who died at the facility told an inquest on Tuesday.
Moses Beaver, of Nibinamik First Nation, was found unresponsive in his cell in February 2017 before being taken to the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, where he was pronounced dead.
An inquest into the 56-year-old’s death began earlier this month and could make recommendations that include ways to improve mental health services in Thunder Bay’s jail and across remote First Nations.
Dr. Peter Schubert, who worked as a psychiatrist at the Thunder Bay jail between 2003 and 2018, told the inquest the jail’s psychiatric services didn’t meet the needs of the population.
He said he was scheduled to spend three hours a week at the facility to serve an average of 200 inmates, including many that had significant addiction and mental health issues.
Schubert said the jail is aware of this issue and has tried to recruit other psychiatrists but that has been difficult.
“It’s a desperate situation, trying to recruit psychiatrists to work in this setting. It’s very difficult to find them, who are willing to do so,” he said.
“That’s even a current issue right now. Not too long ago, I’ve had calls back from them asking me to return because they don’t have anyone.”
Schubert said he used to see five to six inmates for assessments during every three-hour session in the jail.
The assessments took place in an old underground room with a barbed and opaque window, he said.
“A picnic style table that’s made of cement or something very hard, fastened into the floor,” he said.
“There’s some damage in the walls. Sometimes during my assessment, there’ll be piles of laundry in the corner of the room, stacked up high.”
He said inmates were handcuffed during some of the psychiatric assessments and a correctional officer would watch the interview through a closed door.
Schubert said the Thunder Bay jail lacked any mental support resources other than him and a mental health nurse working at the facility.
“There was no groups or programs or psychologists or things like that, that would be found maybe in outside settings in the community,” he said.
The inquest jury heard earlier that Beaver, who was a self-taught Woodlands artist, had mental health issues and had sought help.
The coroner’s counsel, Robert Kozak, told the jury earlier that approximately 32 witnesses will be called during the 20-day inquest, including jail staff, police officers, Beaver’s loved ones, health experts and community members.
Nishnawbe Aski NationDeputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum said eariler this month she and the family members are looking for the inquest to provide answers on Beaver’s death.
“The passing of Moses Beaver is devastating to his family and loved ones in his community, and our thoughts and prayers are with them. His sudden death while in custody is troubling on many levels, especially as days went by before his death was officially acknowledged by those responsible for his care,” said Achneepineskum.
“Years later we still do not fully understand why he did not receive appropriate care and the circumstances that led to his death.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.