Inquest to focus on 1 of 3 Sask. Penitentiary inmates who died in 2-week period

Saskatchewan Penitentiary will be back in the spotlight next week as a coroner's inquest probes the circumstances in the death of Curtis Cozart — one of three inmates to die at the Prince Albert-area federal prison in a two-week period in 2017.

Little is known about how Cozart, 30, died on May 23, 2017.

According to Saskatchewan's Ministry of Justice, he was found unresponsive in his cell. Paramedics tried to revive him. He died later in hospital. 

Shortly after his death, Correctional Service Canada (CSC) said it did not suspect foul play.

But the inquest into Cozart's death promises to return the focus to an institution plagued by a series of inmate deaths in one very short period. 

Two deaths in one day

Only two weeks after Cozart's death, two other Saskatchewan Penitentiary inmates died on the same day.

In the early morning hours of June 7, 2017, Daniel Tokarchuk, 40, was taken to hospital and pronounced dead at 4:24 a.m., according to Correctional Service Canada. 

CSC has declined to confirm whether Tokarchuk died of natural causes.

Several hours later on the same morning, guards found the body of another inmate, Chris Van Camp, in his cell bed on the prison's maximum security ward.

Van Camp's cellmate, Tyler Vandewater, now 31, was recently on trial for second degree murder. He testified he stabbed Van Camp, 37, dozens of times in self defence shortly after midnight.

The court heard that guards doing hourly checks thought Van Camp was asleep in his bed.

The judge will give his decision in the Vandewater case next month

Preventing future deaths

The inquest into Cozart's death begins Monday morning in Prince Albert. Jurors will be tasked with making recommendations on how to prevent other inmate deaths. It's not a criminal proceeding. 

Cozart, Tokarchuk and Van Camp's deaths all came only months after a December 2016 Saskatchewan Penitentiary riot that left one inmate dead.

Correctional service responds

CBC News reached out to CSC for comment on the fatalities at the prison. 

"[We take] the death of an inmate very seriously," a spokesperson for the service said. The loss of life is always a tragedy.

"For all cases of non-natural inmate deaths, CSC convenes an internal board of investigation (BOI). BOIs allow the CSC to examine circumstances of incidents and to present findings and recommendations that may prevent similar occurrences in the future. Any actions that address any areas of concern are considered and implemented accordingly."

Guy Quenneville/CBC