08/25/2016 12:20 EDT | Updated 08/26/2017 01:12 EDT

Nova Scotia's review of jail deaths is 'ad hoc', in need of reform:minister

HALIFAX — Nova Scotia's health minister says the lack of health information included in a review of a jailhouse death shows the province's oversight system is both "ad hoc" and in need of reform, but he isn't being precise about possible remedies.

"This is the time for us to take a look at a plan for the future," Leo Glavine said Thursday after cabinet, responding to questions about the Jan. 31 overdose death of Jason LeBlanc at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility.

A police report obtained by The Canadian Press says the 42-year-old labourer appeared intoxicated and told a nurse he had taken five "nerve pill(s)" but was nonetheless returned to a prison cell rather than being sent to a hospital for observation.

The report says the 42-year-old labourer was seen twice by health staff at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility before he was placed in a cell where he fell asleep and died from a combination of methadone ingested before his arrest and bromazepam pills he smuggled in.

Glavine said he thinks health officials should participate in a Justice Department review. The health information in the death wasn't provided, with the Nova Scotia Health Authority citing privacy reasons under the Personal Health Information Act.

The minister said he wasn't aware of any review of the health aspects of the case by his department.

"We have somewhat of an ad hoc way of investigating when there are deaths in our provincial institutions and I believe there absolutely has to be consistent and very stringent guidelines in which that is carried out," he told reporters.

"I believe that when there is a death we need to make sure that we have all of the people who can shed light on what took place doing that ... and that is not our current situation."

The provincial Justice Department has posted a summary of its review on its website saying that correctional officers made mistakes in how they carried out their rounds and searched LeBlanc when he entered the prison.

But it says health information wasn't provided by the Nova Scotia Health Authority, which runs the prison health system. A spokeswoman for the authority declined comment on the case, citing privacy provisions in legislation.

Justice Minister Diana Whalen said she's aware of problems in how corrections officers failed to follow protocol but still isn't clear on what health staff did to prevent LeBlanc's death.

"There were delays in checking (LeBlanc). There wasn't a thorough search done as Mr. LeBlanc was brought into the facility, but part of it is our co-ordination with our health partners," she said.

"We want to err on the side of intervening sooner and more often."

However, she said she hasn't decided whether legislative change is needed to the Personal Health Information Act or other legislation that blocked health staff participation in reviews.

Tory Leader Jamie Baillie says the comments by the ministers remain general statements that lack a specific agenda for change.

He reiterated his support for a public inquest system in the province, where participation is required by witnesses and formal findings of fact and public recommendations for change are provided.

"I want to see real action on this in a fixed period of time. Not just give us an answer for today and hope people move on to something else. It's not fair," he said.

Medical and addictions experts have said the symptoms described in the police report on LeBlanc's death clearly indicate a scenario where a patient should be shifted to a health facility for monitoring.

Jennifer Kilty, a University of Ottawa criminologist who has expertise in prison health care, said in an email that the signs that LeBlanc was under the influence of some sort of narcotic meant a trip to the hospital was the health care norm.

"They should have kept him in medical until he was sober and clear headed again rather than sending him back to his cell. This would have allowed them to keep him under medical observation at the very least," she wrote.

The police report says in a second check on the afternoon of Jan. 30, the nurse found the prisoner's vital signs had improved and the investigators say the nurse told a guard he didn't have any concerns "at this time."

An autopsy report says when LeBlanc returned to his cell after the assessment he had a concealed bag full of pills and near-fatal levels of methadone in his blood.

That autopsy concluded he died 13 hours after admission from the combination of methadone and bromazepam.

A surveillance video showed LeBlanc's breathing started to slow at 1:50 a.m. on Jan. 31, and it took 45 minutes before corrections officers found him unresponsive in his cell. He was declared dead at 2:45 a.m.

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