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Questions remain over Superjail death

Sharon Weatherall
Midland Free Press
Tuesday, November 25, 2003 - 17:00

Local News - Almost three months after his son died from a cut on his hand that he received in a privately operated "superjail", Tom Elliott and his family are still searching for answers.

"Any information that we have gotten has been on our own. No one has told us anything," said Elliott.

"We want answers. We definitely want answers. They can't run and cover this up."

A month before he was scheduled to be released from the Central North Correctional Centre in Penetanguishene, Ont., 20-year-old Jeffrey Elliott of Beachburg died from septicemia at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto on Aug. 29.

His death shocked and stunned his family. Six days before he died, Jeffrey Elliott called his grandmother, Elizabeth Elliott, telling her that he loved her and was anxious to return home.

As a result of his son's death, Elliott and his mother both say they won't be celebrating Christmas this year.

"There is no happiness in our lives. I go to the graveyard twice a day, hoping for answers," said Mr. Elliott.

"Hopefully the Liberal government (will decide) that something should be done about this. It's my son today, but it could be someone's son tomorrow," he said.

In January, the younger Elliott was sentenced to one year in jail for robbing the McDonald's Restaurant in Pembroke in October 2002.

Soon after the robbery, he purchased a bus ticket from Pembroke to Ottawa and turned himself into the police.

Although he doesn't condone his son's actions, Elliott said his son did take responsibility for his crime.

Jeffrey Elliott was transferred to the Penetanguishene institution in late July from the Ottawa Carleton Detention Centre.

In early August he called home, saying he received a cut to his hand. It is believed that he cut his hand on a food hatch.

Officials from the province and the correctional facility maintain the inmate did receive medical attention on several occasions before being sent to a hospital in Midland, Ont. on Aug. 25. He was then airlifted to Mount Sinai where he died four days later.

"There have been times lately that I sit and look at pictures of Jeffrey and wonder what it would have been like if Jeffrey did come home from jail. All that exists now are pictures and memories of a life that was cut short by a needless act," said Mr. Elliott.

The Elliott family claim it has not received any of Jeffrey's personal effects from the Central North Correctional Centre.

As the family continues to search for answers, Mr. Elliott has decided to take action. He has started a petition and intends to write letters to newspapers across Ontario about his son's death. The family also intends to launch a lawsuit.

Simcoe North MPP and Progressive Conservative Corrections Critic Garfield Dunlop says that anytime anyone dies in an correctional institution or facility there is a police investigation and inquest - that's part of the normal process - and until such a time as recommendations can be made resulting from these investigations there is not a lot that can be said.

"I guess we have to ensure there is a thorough investigation and make sure what happens in this case, is that the recommendations will be fully implemented so that it would not happen agin in future," said Dunlop.

"The inquest will provide crucial information on the case. The real story will be what recommendations result from the investigations. There will be more opportunity to comment on the incident when the inquest is complete."

In regards to the letter campaign and legal action being pursued by the Elliott family, Dunlop said this is quite common such cases, and is part of the mourning process for the family.

There will be an inquest into Jeffrey Elliott's death, but a date has yet to be set.

His death is one of three that have occurred at the correctional centre this year.

Lorne Thaw, 50, of Barrie, Ont., was found unconscious in his cell May 8. He was later pronounced dead in hospital.

Joseph Balog, 20, of Barrie, died at a Midland hospital on Sept. 29, a few hours after being admitted into the Penetang facility. Balog had been charged by Barrie police with weapons and drug charges days before he died.

With Files from Valerie Mclaughlin

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