A man doing time for his connection in a fatal shooting in Prince George, B.C., has died in prison of a drug overdose, according to the union that represents Canadian prison officers.
Kelly Michael Richet was sentenced to five-and-a-half years in March after pleading guilty to manslaughter following the death of Robert Lee Milligan, 33, who was found dead in the driveway of his own home in June 2016.
Richet was serving his time at the medium security Mountain Institution in Agassiz, B.C., and, in a statement released by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), died in custody on Oct. 24.
John Randle, Pacific regional president for the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers, later reported to The Canadian Press that Richet died of an overdose believed to be from fentanyl.
Richet's death comes as CSC moves to expand its current prison needle exchange program this winter, despite calls for a substantial overhaul before it scales up further.
Prison needle exchange program expansion
The program, which launched in 2018, has been available at nine institutions for years. In a list obtained by CBC News, six other facilities have been chosen as possible locations for the expansion, including Mountain Institution.
Randle says providing access to needles for inmates to inject illegal drugs alone in their cells does nothing to curb or treat addictions, and the union is instead advocating for overdose prevention sites in prisons.
He said Mountain Institution staff are exhausted from handling "non-stop" drone drops and overdoses among inmates.
"It's eating us alive," said Randle.
It has not been confirmed if Richet died after injecting or inhaling drugs.
Union push back
According to the union, there have been two fatal overdoses at Mountain since mid-October and expanding the needle exchange program could worsen the problem.
"Why, when we have an overdose problem, are we giving them another tool to overdose on?" said Randle.
The union says the priority should be stopping drugs entering into the prison system in the first place.
In a statement, CSC said that remains an ongoing priority and it is employing a number of tools to prevent the flow of drugs including intelligence investigations and searches of offenders, cells and visitors.
It also said the goal of its needle exchange program is to "complement existing harm reduction measures" and reduce the spread of infectious diseases.
Two other men were also arrested and charged with one count of manslaughter using a firearm in connection to Milligan's shooting death.
According to the B.C. Prosecution Service, the proceedings against Christopher Russell and Cuyler Aubichon were stayed on July 19 and Oct. 3 respectively. Prosecutors determined that the evidence no longer met their standard for charge approval.