Family hopes for justice as inquest into inmate death set to start late June

·3 min read
Delilah Blair, 30, was an inmate at the South West Detention Centre when she died in 2017. The family says they were told she died by suicide. They wonder how she was able to hurt herself in a building full of corrections staff. (Robert Blair/Facebook - image credit)
Delilah Blair, 30, was an inmate at the South West Detention Centre when she died in 2017. The family says they were told she died by suicide. They wonder how she was able to hurt herself in a building full of corrections staff. (Robert Blair/Facebook - image credit)

WARNING: This story contains references to suicide. 

Years after her death, the inquest into the death of Delilah Blair is finally moving forward. It's set to begin June 20, giving her family hope they might get the answers they've long been waiting for.

Her mother said the family ultimately hopes for justice, with the Coroner's inquest finally set to begin after multiple delays.

"When I held my daughter for the last time, I made a promise to her that I would not stop until I had the answers of what happened," said Selina McIntyre, Blair's mother, holding back tears.

"I hope to get the answers I need for what happened that night and some of the procedures and to put my mind at rest."

Blair, a 30-year-old mother of four, died on May 21, 2017 while in custody at Windsor's South West Detention Centre. She had been found unresponsive in her cell, and corrections staff performed first aid before she was taken to hospital where she was declared dead, according to officials at the time.

It was her family that then came forward to say they'd been told Blair died by suicide.

'How did she slip through these cracks?'

The inquest into Blair's death was initially set for April 2020, but was subsequently postponed due to COVID-19. It was only meant to be delayed by months, but instead, it's taken years for a new date to be set.

"I'm nervous. Family's nervous," McIntyre said, in anticipation.

"We have a lot of missing and Indigenous girls and Delilah was Indigenous and I need more answers on, how did she slip through these cracks on procedures that were called upon?"

McIntyre said Blair was in custody for about a month before she died. Court documents indicated she allegedly committed a robbery using an imitation weapon about two months before her death.

Robert Blair/Facebook
Robert Blair/Facebook

Blair was born in Fort St. John, B.C., but grew up in Hay River, N.W.T. She later moved to Windsor.

Her mother explained her daughter had a rough past and fought a battle against drugs, but that she was bright, big-hearted with a great laugh.

'She was bright. She was beautiful.'

Three of Blair's four children, all between the ages of 11 and 16 are being raised by McIntyre. They carry on Blair's spirit, McIntyre said.

Robert Blair
Robert Blair

"Delilah could walk in the room and she had an energy on her. She was bright. She was beautiful. She just had that around her. Her kids carry that, and I see that in her kids every day. And that's what makes me go on," McIntyre said.

According to officials with the Ministry of the Solicitor General, the inquest will likely continue for nine days and will involve about 17 witnesses.

The inquest will look at the circumstances surrounding her death. A jury may make recommendations on how to prevent similar deaths in the future.

Safiyah Husein, a senior policy analyst with the John Howard Society of Ontario, said the organization — which supports people and communities affected by the criminal justice system — is saddened about this death and is pleased to see an inquest in this case.

"Inquests are important mechanisms to spotlight issues and learn critical lessons to prevent future tragedies," Husein said in a statement to CBC News.

"Prisons are difficult places. Sometimes inquests are the only opportunity for the public to learn about what happens inside the institutions walls. We hope that the lessons learned from inquests bring us closer to not needing them anymore."

McIntyre is now in the process of raising funds through crowdsourcing to cover the cost of driving 40 hours to Windsor from Hay River so that she and Blair's aunt can be there in person.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here's where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you're worried about.

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