Trial of former EMDC staffers to proceed following Supreme Court ruling

The trial of two former staffers from London’s troubled Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) will go ahead as planned in the new year.

It comes after the lawyers for Leslie Lonsbary and Stephen Jurkus lost their final battle over delays in the case at the Supreme Court.

Canada’s top court on Thursday dismissed a leave to appeal a judgment made by Ontario’s Court of Appeal in May that ordered the trial of the two men to proceed.

The pair both face charges of failing to provide the necessaries of life in connection to the death of Adam Kargus at EMDC on Oct. 31, 2013. Kargus, 29, was brutally beaten to death by a fellow inmate, Anthony George, at the facility.

George pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in September 2017 and was given a life sentence.

The beating is said to have gone on for around an hour, with Kargus repeatedly screaming for help. His body was located in the jail’s showers the next morning.

Lonsbary, a former correctional officer, and Jurkus, an operational manager, were charged in March 2014 alongside a third jail staffer whose charges were later withdrawn.

Both had been set to be tried together on May 8, 2017, following a lengthy pre-trial. Those proceedings, however, were stayed by a Superior Court of Ontario justice in February 2017 after an application for a stay was brought forward by the pair’s lawyers on the basis of unreasonable delay.

The Crown appealed the decision, and in May 2018, the Ontario Court of Appeal held there was no unreasonable delay, that the application judge had erred in their analysis of the Charter, and that the matter should be remitted to the Superior Court for trial, with a date set for January.

In August, Lonsbary and Jurkus’ lawyers filed applications for leave to appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal decision, looking to have the matter heard before the Supreme Court. The court dismissed the applications on Thursday.

“The applications for leave to appeal from the judgment of the Court of Appeal for Ontario … are dismissed,” read a brief judgment posted to the Supreme Court’s website.

“Whatever the outcome of the trial is, it sends a clear message that there’s a job to be done, that people have duties. And those include maintain the health and safety of the people they’re charged with supervising,” said lawyer Kevin Egan, who is representing hundreds of EMDC inmates in a class-action lawsuit against the province over conditions at the jail, on Friday.

“That is the strongest message that can come out of this: that it’s your responsibility.”

Egan is also representing six inmates at the jail who have filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the provincial government, alleging psychological trauma from having witnessed Kargus’ murder while locked in their cells.

“Way too much time has passed for the family to get closure on this,” he said. “And for other inmates who were witnesses to the event, they’re living with it too, with the spectre of having to testify about what they saw.”

Since 2009, 13 inmates have died at the jail. A joint inquest by the province is underway into the deaths of three — Floyd Deleary in August 2015, Justin Thompson in October 2016, and Murray James Davis in August 2017.

“Every time something seriously bad happens at EMDC, I think, ‘Maybe this is the one that’s going to spur the government into action.’ I continue to be optimistic, but with some healthy scepticism as well,” Egan said.

Egan said he anticipates that shortcomings in the way EMDC is managed will come to the forefront during the trial, including what he says is a “malaise” that exists in the working environment.

“We know a lot about the overcrowding and the poor supervision, the violence, that’s rife in there. But increasingly, I’m hearing about a real poisoned work environment, as well. So, I expect that some of that will also come to light,” he said.

The facility has also been plagued by drug overdoses. In August alone, seven inmates were hospitalized after overdosing on an unspecified opiate. Many other cases aren’t made public.

Two body scanners became operational at the jail in March, two years after they were promised by the province’s corrections ministry, and in September, the ministry introduced further security measures at the facility, including a dedicated canine unit.

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