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Provincial inquest into deaths of men in Winnipeg police custody begins

A provincial inquest into the deaths of five men in police custody began Tuesday, with the inquest hearing from three Winnipeg Police Service members and a family member of one of the deceased.

Patrick Gagnon, then 41, died in police custody in October 2018. His case is the first to be examined as part of the group inquest. All the men died in custody during a roughly one-year period beginning in 2018.

Gagnon’s former partner, Dallas Huston, described how she and her daughter’s lives were shattered.

“Why is life in Winnipeg so cheap?” she said.

Huston told the courtroom Gagnon was a hard-working man who loved his daughter. Since his death, Huston said their daughter has struggled emotionally, and that they have been met with lengthy waitlists when trying to seek help.

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“I hope this inquest will bring about some change, namely for the children who are left behind,” she said.

The inquest heard from three Winnipeg Police officers, constables Mark Adolph and Johnathan Kiazyk, as well as Sgt. Craig Hodgson, who attended to a report of a man acting erratically in a Winnipeg industrial area on Oct. 25, 2018.

Adolph said he heard a man yelling as he approached the locomotive where the man had allegedly chased rail workers, forcing them to lock themselves inside. Adolph and the other officers found Gagnon on the narrow exterior walkway of the train.

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Adolph described Gagnon as looking “scared” and “agitated,” and said he seemed to be intoxicated. He said he climbed onto the walkway to speak with Gagnon and eventually coaxed him down off the train.

The inquest heard from the three officers that they then attempted to “gain control of his hands,” but that Gagnon resisted.

Adolph described using his knee to give blows to Gagnon’s shoulder, after which police handcuffed him.

Kiazyk said he then noticed Gagnon’s demeanour change — “it was almost immediate,” he said.

Gagnon was unresponsive and without a pulse. The officers testified they began CPR, until paramedics arrived and took Gagnon to hospital.

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Judge Lindy Choy asked the officers about use of force and handcuff policy, and asked officers at which point they considered the situation a medical emergency.

All officers were also asked if there was anything that could have been done differently the night of the incident.

“I don’t think we would have changed anything we would have done that night, unfortunately,” said Hodgson.

Judge Choy said the intent of the inquest is not to lay blame, but to gain a fulsome understanding of the situation leading up to and following each of the five deaths in order to make recommendations.

The inquest resumes Wednesday, Nov. 8, with additional dates scheduled throughout November and February, 2024.

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