Defence lawyer calls for public inquiry into death of Seamus Flynn

Lawyer Bob Buckingham wants the province's chief medical examiner to call for a public inquiry into the death of Seamus Flynn.  (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)
Lawyer Bob Buckingham wants the province's chief medical examiner to call for a public inquiry into the death of Seamus Flynn. (Elizabeth Whitten/CBC - image credit)

A defence lawyer in St. John's is calling for a public inquiry into the death of 35-year-old inmate Seamus Flynn and health-care services at Her Majesty's Penitentiary.

Bob Buckingham says Newfoundland and Labrador's chief medical examiner has the power to call for an inquiry — similar to a coroner's inquest — but never has.

"I think we need to have a real strong investigation into this death," Buckingham said in a recent interview.

"There should be a number of inquiries, but certainly he should be acting on this one. He has the authority, he has the ability."

Flynn was taken by ambulance from the St. John's prison in the evening of Dec. 1 and was pronounced dead early the next day.

His mother, Cindy Flynn, says preliminary information she received from Dr. Nash Denic, the chief medical examiner, indicates Flynn died after contracting viral influenza that morphed into a bacterial infection. He also had severe pneumonia and became septic.

Colleen Connors/CBC
Colleen Connors/CBC

Buckingham pointed the finger at prison conditions.

"The present circumstances are just some of the worst I've seen in the last 32 years," Buckingham said.

He said he has called for the chief medical examiner to recommend an inquiry into deaths at the penitentiary before. His client Jonathan Henoche died in custody in November 2019 while awaiting trial for first-degree murder.

Two years later, a judge dismissed charges against the nine correctional officers accused of causing the death of an inmate under their care.

Four inmates died by suicide at HMP and the Newfoundland and Labrador Correctional Centre for Women between 2017 and 2018. While there was no public inquiry, the province commissioned a review by retired police officer Marlene Jesso.

That independent report painted a bleak picture of facilities rife with overcrowding and inadequate mental health and addictions support.

This time, Buckingham said, should be different. He said Flynn's death puts a spotlight on access to medical and dental care, something he said inmates have complained about for years.

Provincial health authorities took over control of health care within correctional facilities, following Jesso's report. The Newfoundland and Labrador Health Services website says it provides nursing assessments and interventions, medication management and delivery, diagnostic services, health promotion and prevention, opioid dependence therapy, and counselling, psychological and psychiatric services.

Buckingham said he was initially hopeful but access to medical care remains a problem in correctional centres.

"I had one person who called and said that they were ill for four days and [had] no recollection of four days because of the circumstances they were in, in terms of having a fever and stuff like that."

An N.L. Health Services spokesperson did not respond to CBC News by deadline.

OCME has never called for inquiry before

In an email to CBC News in December, Denic said no chief medical examiner has called for a public inquiry before, as far as he knows.

The Fatalities Investigations Act says the chief medical examiner can recommend to the justice minister that a public inquiry be held if "it is necessary for the protection of the public interest or in the interest of public safety."

Denic would have the authority to recommend an inquiry under a number of circumstances, including when one or more deaths occur in a correctional institution.

"Factors that influence whether a recommendation for an inquiry is made would include if there are patterns or commonalities of deaths in a single institution or under similar circumstances where multiple deaths have occurred that could have been otherwise prevented," Denic wrote.


Denic said a public inquiry would be similar to a corner's inquest, with the chief medical examiner presenting facts obtained during their investigation.

Buckingham said that's the organization that should be doing it, "even in addition to what the police may be doing or what the citizens' representative may be doing."

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is investigating what happened to Seamus Flynn, including an alleged assault that occurred in the facility in October. The Office of the Citizens' Representative has also been provided with material from the Department of Justice in relation to the incident.

In the absence of a provincial advocate or ombudsman to oversee correctional facilities, Buckingham is joining forces with other defence lawyers to act collectively to review systems that are in place and recommend solutions.

Health-care services is on the agenda, he said.

"I do think that the current minister of justice wants to see some changes," said Buckingham.

"If there's any good that can come out of this tragedy of Seamus Flynn it is the fact that it has been a microscope on the health-care services provided to inmates at Her Majesty's Penitentiary."

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