A constable from the London Police Service has been found guilty for failing to provide the necessaries of life and criminal negligence causing the death of an Indigenous woman.
Debra Chrisjohn died while in police custody. Although she had ingested a toxic level of methamphetamine that resulted in a heart attack, timely medical intervention might have saved her life. Ms. Chrisjohn was wanted on an outstanding Ontario Provincial Police [“OPP”] warrant for failure to comply with a recognizance, was creating a disturbance in a public area while intoxicated by drugs, and who had done the same the day before. She was also a vulnerable woman of Indigenous heritage who was in dire need of medical attention and, by reason of her physical condition and placement in custody, could not secure it on her own. There is no suggestion that being Indigenous played any role in decisions made by the police in this case. It has been observed, however, that Indigenous women and girls are particularly vulnerable to stereotyping, including stereotypes relating to alcohol and drug abuse (R v Barton, 2019 SCC 33). The evidence in this case suggested that stereotypes and generalized assumptions played a role in the events leading to Ms. Chrisjohn’s death. The accused, Constable Doering of the London Police Service, had pre-conceived notions about drug users and held fast to those notions when dealing with Ms. Chrisjohn.
Cst. Doering arrested Ms. Chrisjohn and transferred her to OPP custody. He failed to provide the necessaries of life during his charge of her by not obtaining medical assistance contrary to s 215 of the Criminal Code [“CC”]. He also had a duty to convey accurate information about Ms. Chrisjohn’s medical condition to the officers assuming responsibility for her custody, but did not do so. After carefully considering the issue and evidence, the Court concluded that Cst. Doering knowingly misled the OPP. His conduct was a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care of a reasonably prudent police officer. In providing the OPP with erroneous and incomplete information about Ms. Chrisjohn’s condition, Cst. Doering demonstrated a wanton and reckless disregard for her life. His conduct created a risk that medical assistance would be even further delayed which represents a marked and substantial departure from the standard of care. It was a contributing cause of Ms. Chrisjohn’s death and grounds culpability, under s 219 of the CC, for criminal negligence causing death.