ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Natasha Martin’s tears flow as she speaks about her need for answers to a growing number of questions surrounding her daughter’s death five months ago at the Correctional Centre for Women in Clarenville.
Skye Martin, 27, was pronounced dead at the Dr. G.B. Cross Memorial Hospital in Clarenville in the early morning hours of April 21. Correctional officers found her collapsed in her cell the day before. According to police, Skye was eating lunch in her cell when a piece of sandwich became lodged in her windpipe. Despite CPR by correctional officers and transport to hospital after a 911 call was made, Skye could not be saved.
Natasha Martin says five months waiting for information is too long. She says the only way to get answers for her and the families of others who died while in correctional facilities in the province is through a public inquiry.
“I am a grieving mother. Am I supposed to start calling the Confederation Building every day?” she said, becoming emotional. “This is on my mind every minute of every day. No one has contacted me. There are no updates for me. The only way I’m going to get any answers as to what happened to my daughter, all the information, is if there is a public inquiry. The public deserves to know what happened to my daughter. The public needs to know where the gaps are. We are never going to be able to fix the system until we know what’s broken. I know it’s broken. I have a grave that tells me it’s broken.”
In late May the provincial government announced there would be an independent external review of the circumstances surrounding the death of three inmates at Newfoundland and Labrador correctional centres which occurred between Aug. 31, 2017 and May 26, 2018.
The government retained retired RNC Supt. Marlene Jesso to conduct the review. Jesso was asked to examine staff response to the situations, and the appropriateness of related policies and procedures. Where appropriate and necessary, Jesso was asked to provide recommendations.
“My opinion is that Marlene Jesso’s investigation is just on whether the policies and procedures were followed,” Natasha said. “My daughter was diagnosed and was being treated for mental health issues for the last 10 years. She left a mental health hospital and went to Clarenville with no (mental health) resources there. A guard told me during a visit in early April they did not know what to do with her.
My opinion is that Marlene Jesso’s investigation is just on whether the policies and procedures were followed. - Natasha Martin
“What happened between the time Skye left the Waterford (Hospital) when she was doing well to the time of her death? Is her investigation going to ask those questions? I don’t know.”
Natasha said Skye had struggled with mental illness from the time she was a child. She showed early signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety, but despite her mother's efforts to get her help, she wasn't diagnosed until years later.
Natasha said Skye showed periods of improvement through the years and had a daughter of her own, Summer, who is now 10.
“She was at the age of 27 where she accepted she had a mental illness. She would phone me when she was getting sick,” Natasha said. “She phoned me (one time) and said, ‘Mom can we go get something to eat? Then I think you should take me to the hospital.’”
Natasha does have her daughter’s autopsy report and has been attempting to get the RCMP report into the death through the province’s Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) Act.
She made the request for the RCMP report in June and has been told twice that her request has been delayed.
She said she has also been informed that when she does receive the report through ATIPP, much of it may be blacked out.
“There was a delay because of a backup of requests, but it’s supposed to be with somebody to review, a lady told me last Friday,” Natasha said. “I was also advised that to get the full report I would have to get a lawyer to seek a production order for the report, or a subpoena.
“But will the RCMP investigation give me all the answers? Probably not. But how do I find out what happened to my daughter? I can speculate, but that doesn’t give me any peace. It doesn’t give me any answers to give to her daughter.”
"How do I find out what happened to my daughter? I can speculate, but that doesn’t give me any peace. It doesn’t give me any answers to give to her daughter." - Natasha Martin
Skye was released from prison in December 2017 after serving a year for attempted armed robbery. Upon release, she stayed at the St. John's Native Friendship Centre and was also getting help from staff at the Stella Burry Centre, her mother said.
A month later, however, things turned bad again. Natasha said Skye’s mental illness got out of control and she was admitted to the Waterford Hospital at the end of January 2018.
While in hospital, Skye responded well under the care of Dr. Nazar Ladha, she said.
Shortly afterward, however, the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal ruled that Skye’s sentence for the attempted armed robbery had been insufficient and ordered that she serve another six months behind bars.
“I still don’t understand the decision,” Natasha said. “However, Skye was on medication in the Waterford at the time and was doing well. She became upset with the appeal decision, but was willing to do the extra time. She said to me, ‘Mom, it will only be four months. When I get out we will go shopping. I want a pair of Nike sneakers.’
“Looking back, I should have spoken out, but I had faith that she was going to be OK. But her mental health deteriorated drastically after she went to Clarenville. What happened? Why was food allowed in a cell when the person was showing signs of mental distress? So, is this all going to be included in Marlene Jesso’s investigation? I think we need a public inquiry.”
Natasha said she is going to continue to seek answers to her questions, and to fight to see changes to the system.
“Most of the time I don’t want to believe (Skye is dead). It’s hard to comprehend. Somewhere in my mind I know it’s true, but sometimes I still want to believe she is still in Clarenville or in the Waterford, and she is going to phone,” she said. “She was on the road to getting better. If I can get the answers to what happened to Skye, then I can push for changes and the resources needed so this won’t happen to anyone again.”