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Emergency buzzer had been disabled at prison where Clayton Cromwell died: report – Halifax




An emergency intercom in the jail unit of a young Halifax man who died of a methadone overdose had been improperly disabled by guards who regarded it as a nuisance, according to a corrections investigation.

The report says a cellmate found 23-year-old Clayton Cromwell unconscious on April 7, 2014, and yelled at other inmates with an intercom in their cell to press the “red button.”

But there was no response for 10 or 15 minutes, inmates said, and they had to start kicking doors and yelling to get attention of officers at Halifax’s Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility.

According to the report, released to The Canadian Press under freedom-of-information legislation, the intercom had been cut some time earlier, in contravention of provincial rules.

“They used to have intercoms in there,” a captain is described as telling the corrections investigator.

“They were a nuisance for the most part.”

READ MORE: Privacy chief criticizes partial suppression of N.S. jail death report

He told the investigator that if someone needed medical attention or had disabilities, they had a special cell with a working intercom, but otherwise inmates “get ahold of us by yelling, banging, waving their towels…”

The investigator quoted the cellmate as saying he shouted to ask other inmates to use the emergency intercom to get the attention of guards.

“They were trying to press buzzers … I think the intercom only in the handicap cell works,” the investigator quoted the inmate saying.

The investigation report says a follow up email from the correctional officer several days after the death indicated that the intercom in the specialized health cell also wasn’t working, and there was no record on the reason for that.

The Department of Justice declined all comment on whether the lack of intercom may have caused a delay in response to the dying prisoner and whether changes have been made in response, citing an ongoing lawsuit from his family.

Devin Maxwell, the lawyer representing Cromwell’s family, said in an interview he feels the disconnected system played a role.

“Disabling the intercom system removed a level of security from the inmates that could have allowed Clayton’s cell mate to contact correctional officers before he died. Nuisance was not a sufficient reason to take that option away,” he wrote in an email.

The report contains disputed versions of when inmates first attempted to get the attention of correctional officers, with some reporting they’d been trying since 6 a.m., three hours before the official time of death.

However, closed circuit television showed the first attempts were between 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.

WATCH MORE: N.S. justice minister fields tough questions after inmate death

Maxwell says the issue of when inmates first tried to alert corrections officials to the overdose “remains an open issue,” but he argues the failure to detect overdose symptoms the day and night before suggests understaffing at the jail and problems in jail procedures.

Cromwell was in the jail awaiting a hearing on alleged probation violations. He was repeatedly described by inmates as a “good kid,” who’d been in the unit for a short period of time.

Inmates told the investigator that potent opioids were believed to be on the unit, and inmates gave descriptions of the signs of Cromwell’s overdose through the evening and night of his descent into the fatal overdose.

A guard said inmates were being pressured to “cheek” medication – a term meaning the substance is concealed in the inmate’s mouth. One inmate described how opioids “had been floating around” in the days before the overdose.

The document says that the prisoners were locked in their cells for much of the afternoon before Cromwell’s death due to an unrelated health emergency.

Nonetheless, it appears that somehow Cromwell ended up receiving and taking a deadly combination of methadone and an anti-depressant called bezodiazepine, according to autopsy findings. It said medical evidence showed his body wasn’t used to the drug, and a single dose was sufficient to kill him.

According to the investigation report, inmates said on the evening before his death Cromwell was described as “a bit groggy,” and staring at the television in the common area in an unusual way.

However, details were blanked out of the descriptions and all the interviews with guards were cut out of the report released to The Canadian Press, despite the freedom of information commissioner’s findings in August that the province hadn’t provided sufficient evidence to show why they should be withheld.

A cellmate told the investigators that by 11:30 p.m. on April 6, Cromwell was making gurgling noises. At 2 a.m., about seven hours before Cromwell was declared dead in his cell, the cellmate was still hearing Cromwell make “gurgling” noises and had rolled him over.

READ MORE: N.S. privacy commissioner smacks down justice department over secrecy around death of Clayton Cromwell

The report has the inmate describing the noise as “like he was choking on his spit or something … a lot of fluids in his mouth,” and also describes him lifting his arm up and down.

Dr. Risk Kronfli, the director of offender health services at the Nova Scotia Health Authority, said in an interview that a number of measures have been taken since Cromwell’s death to reduce the risk of opioids reaching prisoners.

They include increasing the period of time that inmates are observed after receiving medication by 10 minutes, and thorough strip searches of males before leaving the health unit.

The prison also now has a body scanner to check inmates coming into the facility for any drugs on or inside their body, he said.

“I can tell you since we implemented the strip search and the longer period of time (of observation) there hasn’t been any methadone that’s made its way back to the unit,” said Kronfli.

He said about 29 people are currently on the opioid replacement program at the facility, with 23 receiving methadone, four Suboxone and two on Kadian.

The doctor said the program at the jail is usually for addicts and the medical staff have to balance the safety of the facility with the need to treat the addiction, even if a person has abused the program.


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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal




MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow




Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise




Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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