Ontario's coroner is calling for an inquest into eight inmate deaths at London Prison


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By: Randy Richmond

LONDON, ONT. – The province has launched a group investigation into the deaths of eight inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center (EMDC).

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The deaths occurred between 2017 and 2021, but no date has been announced for the largest EMDC-related coroner's inquest to date.

The inquest will examine the deaths of:

  • Raymond Major, 52, passed away June 6, 2017
  • Ronald Jenkins, 49, passed away December 9, 2017
  • Justin Struthers, 29, died December 26, 2017
  • James Pigeau, 32, died January 7, 2018
  • Sean Tourand-Brightman, 33, passed away March 31, 2019
  • Chase Blanchard, 29, died June 21, 2019
  • Malcom Ripley, 41, passed away November 25, 2020
  • Clayton Bissonnette, 61, passed away March 24, 2021

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All deaths occurred while in custody at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Center in London or after being transferred to hospital. Inquests into such deaths are mandatory under the province's Coroner Act, the province said.

Details on the date and location of the examination will be announced later, said Dr. Elizabeth Urbantke, the London region's chief coroner.

The province generally groups deaths together during investigations to examine common causes or concerns.


“It appears the focus will be on staffing and access to programs,” London lawyer Kevin Egan, who represents seven families of the dead inmates, told Postmedia News on Tuesday. Several, but not all, deaths appear to be drug-related, he added.

While investigating multiple deaths simultaneously reduces the investigation backlog, it also presents challenges, Egan said. “One of the biggest drawbacks is that logistics make it less possible to focus on each individual’s circumstances.”

Egan has long pushed for Ontario to move more quickly to prison death investigations and commit to following the inquest jury's recommendations.

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“These inquests aim not only to establish the circumstances surrounding the individual's death, but also to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.” If it takes several years to get to an inquest, this purpose becomes apparent to stay on track,” he said.

“For the families, there seems to be at least some hope that they will get answers and that their loved one's death will mean something,” Egan added.

“Generally we get answers and good recommendations, but the air will go out of the balloon if the government doesn’t act on these recommendations.”

Since 2009, 24 EMDC inmates have died. Eight of these deaths have already been investigated.

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