Lawyer recounts ‘inhumane’ treatment of prisoner he says led to death

By Lisa Joy

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

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After being incarcerated in the maximum Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert since June 2012, Christopher (Chris) Andrew Van Camp was finally released on parole April 24, 2017.

Van Camp left Saskatchewan, returning home to Calgary.

He wanted to turn his life around.

And for a while it seemed he was. He enrolled in Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.


“He was taking pre-apprentice crane operator,” said his mom Lauren Laithwaite in an interview Feb. 7 from Calgary.

“He and I were both excited for him. He was very intelligent.”

One day as Van Camp sat in class he texted his mom an interesting story.

“The instructor said the parole office is just down the street – so keep your car doors locked,” said Laithwaite. “He found it amusing that they never suspected he was on parole and that stigma was everywhere.”

Van Camp’s incarceration stemmed from the drug addiction he battled, which became a lifelong challenge for the young man with striking good looks and a creative soul.

“He was kind, looked out for the underdogs and those who couldn’t protect themselves,” said Laithwaite about her son. “He gave what he had to others. He was funny, smart and he loved those who loved him and those who didn’t. If you had him as a friend he was loyal, in a world that literally would take you out for a dime. That’s who he was.”

Chris was also an introvert, she added.

“He read lots, played hockey, even in prison. He was very athletic growing up.”

Chris was into art, drawing, and he loved music, everything from jazz to metal, punk, rap, classic, oldies and classical.

“He went to a lot of musicals and opera when he was young. He had an appreciation.”

Still, Laithwaite acknowledges her son had “negative qualities, too,” which she said “came out in his active addiction.”

According to court documents in a civil claim filed by Laithwaite’s lawyer, Tavengwa Runyowa, out of Regina on July 17, 2017, Van Camp’s incarcerations were based on actions that arose from his dependency on drugs. He participated in addictions counselling while in prison but still had access to illicit drugs there, including fentanyl.

The court documents reveal Van Camp’s parole officer was working towards getting his parole waived so he wouldn’t be returned to prison.

“The parole officer indicated that Van Camp needed treatment that prison could not adequately provide,” reads the Statement of Claim.

As hard as he tried to turn his life around, his efforts weren’t enough. A month after being released he overdosed on cocaine laced with fentanyl.

Court documents say, “He was rushed to the Calgary Foothills Hospital and stayed in the trauma centre. He was in a coma and life support from May, 24, 2017, to May 28, 2017.

He awoke from his coma on May 29, 2017, unaware of where he was or how he got there.

“He was sick, disoriented, child-like, and could only respond to his mother with two-word answers,” reads the court document. “For his protection the hospital staff medically paralyzed Van Camp to allow him no body movement. Despite being paralyzed Van Camp was cuffed at the ankles.”

Court documents show Van Camp’s parole officer visited him in the hospital and told his mom, “This was not the same Chris and he was not well.”

The parole officer said the Foothills hospital staff wanted him to go into treatment under the hospital’s dual diagnosis treatment program for mental health and addictions.

Chris’s mom was only allowed to see him on May 29, 2017.

On May 29, 2017, Calgary Police Service officers went to the hospital and told the nurse they were executing an arrest warrant for Van Camp. The parole officer’s supervisor overruled his recommendations and had a warrant issued for Van Camp for breach of conditions, because of his drug overdose.

 

Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act

Runyowa maintains the arrest warrant broke the law because it was in contravention of the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act. The act allows for protection of people from charges such as possessing a controlled substance or breach of conditions regarding possession when on parole, conditional sentences or a pre-trial release. The act became law three weeks before Van Camp was arrested.

Correctional officers from Bowden Institution told Laithwaite her son was under arrest and told her to leave the hospital “because she had no business there and no visitors were allowed to see him,” state court documents.

A day after waking up from his coma, correctional officers placed Van Camp under arrest.

Lauren and her mother protested to hospital staff trying to stop the arrest. Court documents say Alberta Health Services released Van Camp into the Bowden officer’s custody and allege they complied with the unlawful arrest.

The statement of claim alleges AHS didn’t provide Foothills Medical Centre with information about Bill C224, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, and didn’t have a policy in place to protect a patient’s well-being and legal rights.

From June 1 to June 6, Van Camp was in transit between Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert.

Court documents state the transport wasn’t designed or equipped for medical transfer of patients in Van Camp’s debilitated state and he didn’t receive any medical attention during this period.

On June 2, 2017, Van Camp called his mom and told her he was feeling unwell and had no strength. It would be the last time Laithwaite would hear her son’s voice.

On June 6, 2017, at about 9 p.m. he arrived back at Saskatchewan Penitentiary and wasn’t permitted to seek medical attention he needed, alleges the Statement of Claim. He was also denied access to his puffer and additional medication to address his breathing and coughing issues.

Within hours of being placed in a cell, Van Camp was murdered by his cellmate, Tyler Vandewater, on June 7, 2017, at about 2 a.m.

“Chris had little chance of defending himself,” state court documents. “Despite a policy mandating cell patrols every hour, prison staff did not discover Chris’ body until around 8:30 a.m., about six hours after Vandewater murdered Chris.”

The first time Laithwaite learned her son was back in the Saskatchewan Penitentiary is when they called to inform her Vandewater had murdered him.

 

Chris’s mom sues CSC, AG, CPS, AHS, FMC

Laithwaite is suing Correctional Service of Canada and the Attorney General, Alberta Health Services, Foothills Medical Centre and the City of Calgary/Calgary Police Services. She is suing CSC, AHS and police in Alberta for collective actions that crossed provincial borders. In Saskatchewan, she is only suing CSC, because her son died at the province’s prison.

CSC is named in the lawsuit for false imprisonment, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence.

AHS and FMC are accused of breach of fiduciary duty and that they knew or ought to have known about the Good Samaritan Act but failed to educate staff or implement policies to make sure a vulnerable person such as Van Camp was not illegally apprehended from their care and especially not while he was in a vulnerable medical condition, the claim alleges.

The claim also alleges AHS and FMC failed in their duty to ensure he would leave FMC in a medical transport and they knew or ought to have known that the arrest of their patient would place him at high risk of harm to his well-being, including death.

AHS and FMC are also accused of negligence and breach of contract.

All defendants are accused of breaching Van Camp’s rights under the Charter of Rights.

 

Statements of Defence and Applications to Dismiss

On Jan. 6, 2020, the Department of Justice Canada in Edmonton filed an application for Summary Dismissal of the claim for the AG and CSC. AHS, FMC, CPS and the City of Calgary filed their own applications seeking a similar outcome.

They say there is no merit to the plaintiff’s claim against Canada and Canada didn’t owe Van Camp or the plaintiffs a fiduciary duty. It further states that Van Camp died as a result of the actions of Vandewater who was charged with murder and his return to jail wasn’t the proximate cause of his death.

The Department of Justice Canada says there is no merit to the plaintiffs’ claim against AHS and AHS didn’t cause the violent criminal act to occur and the attack on Van Camp wasn’t reasonably foreseeable by AHS. Alternatively, AHS asks the court that if the action is allowed to continue, only certain types of damages are recoverable upon the death of Van Camp pursuant to the Fatal Accidents Act and the Survival of Actions Act. They say the Survival of Actions Act doesn’t allow clients to claim the majority of damages being claimed.

The CPS’s statement of defence also asked the claim to be dismissed against CPS and said there’s no merit to the plaintiffs’ claim because CPS didn’t play any role in obtaining the warrant for Van Camp’s arrest and they had no knowledge of the evidence used to obtain that warrant. Instead, the CPS, under the Police Act, was under a duty to execute that warrant.

They also state the actions of the CPS didn’t cause any damage to Van Camp.

They ask the court that if the claim continues, Van Camp is deceased and therefore pursuant to the Survival of Actions Act only certain types of damages are recoverable, such as funeral costs.

An Oct. 3, 2019, Statement of Defence for AHS and FMC says AHS denies it or any of its employees breached any agreement or contract with Van Camp. AHS denies it breached any of Van Camp’s rights under the Charter of Rights.

The court document goes on to say that Laithwaite’s statement of claim overstates AHS’s duty in the Van Camp circumstance. Its duty to Van Camp was to provide qualified personnel and the nursing and other services, equipment and facilities necessary to carry out physician’s orders holding medical staff privileges.

“AHS and its employees are not responsible for medical assessments and decisions which are made by physicians,” states the court document.

AHS also maintains it didn’t breach any duty to Van Camp, saying AHS had no duty at law to question the validity of or refuse to recognize an arrest warrant served upon Van Camp by CPS. AHS had no authority to prevent officers from CPS or CSC from arresting Van Camp or transferring him to a CSC penitentiary.

Runyowa says the core of the government’s case is based on what he called a perverse but little known feature of Canadian law: survival is valued and rewarded more than death.

“If the government violates your constitutional rights and you survive you can sue for damages that reflect the extent of that harm,” he said in an interview Feb. 6. 

He pointed out examples such as Omar Khadr and his $10 million settlement, Maher Arar’s $10 million settlement, and Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad El Maati and Muayyed Nureddin’s $31 million settlement. 

“All the above were tortured and the size of their settlements reflected the extent of their suffering and the government’s culpability,” said Runyowa. “However, Chris was not only tortured after being wrongful arrested, he must have suffered greatly and died painfully. And because of that, the government gets to say, too bad, you can’t sue us and even if you can, you cannot recover most damages. So Chris’s suffering and death is valued far less than the above gentlemen who survived their government-imposed ordeals. It just makes no sense but that’s what Attorney General [David] Lametti is asserting through his Alberta and Saskatchewan lawyers.” 

None of these claims have been proven in court. Both sides are set to argue the question of whether the Alberta lawsuit can continue June 24, 2020, in a Calgary court.

Runyowa said on that day he intends to challenge the Fatal Accidents Act and Survival of Actions Act that all the defendants are relying on to dismiss Laithwaite’s claim, or limit her damages, regardless of how egregious their alleged actions were. Runyowa also filed a Notice of Constitutional Question. 

Laithwaite is suing for constitutional rights violations, including cruel and unusual punishment under Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, and for violating Van Camp’s, liberty, and security of the person under Section 7 of the Charter, and for arbitrary detention and imprisonment, under the Section 9 of the Charter. These charter grounds will be the basis of Runyowa’s constitutional challenge in Calgary on June 24, 2020.

See related story: Mother of murdered inmate, Chris Van Camp, gets answers at trial 

 

 

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