Inquest hears Thunder Bay jail crowded, understaffed when Indigenous artist died


Moses Beaver was a renowned Oji-Cree artist who died in 2017. Photo: National Film Board

A Thunder Bay jail was understaffed and overcrowded with inmates when a renowned Indigenous artist died there in 2017, a senior officer at the facility told an inquest on Friday.

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.

Staff Sgt. Mark Dyrland, who works at the Thunder Bay jail, said the facility was understaffed around 2017, with only a few employees running the entire jail on some days.

Dyrland said as a supervisor, he had to serve meals to inmates and collect dishes at times so other staff members could take a break.

“It was a struggle,” he said.

“There were days that you would be running the entire institution with five staff.”

The number of inmates at the facility had been increasing and reached more than 200 inmates by 2016, he said.

The inquest jury has heard that the death of Beaver, who had mental health issues and sought help, was attributed to hanging.

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.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023.



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