Mother of 37-year-old man who died in custody at Sask. Pen ‘devastated’, murder charge laid against inmate
Christopher Andrew Van Camp, 37, died June 7, 2017 while in custody at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert Saskatoon
The mother of a 37-year-old man who died in custody at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary on Wednesday says her family is devastated and she is planning to file a lawsuit against the prison. Christopher Andrew Van Camp s death is being treated as suspicious by the RCMP. He was found unresponsive in his cell and emergency responders called to the prison could not resuscitate him. The RCMP was notified on Wednesday at around 8:35 a.m. about an inmate found dead at the penitentiary.
Van Camp was the second in-custody death in a matter of hours at the Prince Albert facility. Daniel James Tokarchuk, 44, was more than 12 years into a life sentence for second-degree murder when he died Wednesday morning, according to Correctional Service Canada. Emergency services were called and Tokarchuk was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 4:24 a.m.
Van Camp s mother, Lauren Laithwaite, said it s all too much, but she is surrounded by family.
We re just going to take it one day at a time, and I m going to make sure that the federal government pays for this, Laithwaite said via telephone from her Alberta home in on Thursday afternoon. Van Camp had been serving a five-year, five-month and 12-day sentence for armed robbery, fraud, committing theft, and break and enter, according to the Correctional Service Canada.
On Friday, RCMP announced that Tyler Vandewater, a 28-year-old inmate at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary, has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Van Camp. Vandewater is scheduled to appear June 14 in Prince Albert provincial court.
Laithwaite said the crimes he committed were related to getting drugs he had been battling a drug addiction for most of his adult life. There were two Christophers, and when he was clean and sober, Laithwaite said he was loving, helpful and had tons and tons of friends. He started to get in trouble as teenager, and played competitive hockey, but fell into drugs and couldn t kick it after that, she added.
Van Camp had been paroled on April 24, and returned to Calgary. He was released with conditions that he couldn t use drugs or drink.
The hypocrisy is he was doing drugs the last five years in jail, she said. He had told his parole officer he was using anything he could get his hands on.
If we can t get drugs through airport security, then why are they getting into our penitentiaries? she later asked. He transferred briefly to a facility that helps parolees get back on his feet, then Laithwaite moved him into a family apartment where her other son lives. Van Camp enrolled in SAIT in Calgary. For two weeks, he tried really hard to stay clean, but one morning, Laithwaite s other son found Van Camp near death. Van Camp had overdosed on cocaine laced with fentanyl.
He ended up spending days in a coma and in ICU at Foothills Hospital in Calgary on life support. He woke up on May 29, unaware of where he was or how he got there. He could only reply to Laithwaite with short, two-word answers. The next day, guards from Bowden Institution, in central Alberta, came to the hospital with warrants and re-arrested him for breaching his conditions for drug use. On the Friday of that week, Laithwaite said her son was taken to Bowden, and in a phone call he told her that he d be moved to the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and that he wasn t feeling well and had no strength. She wondered if he should have been transferred to a hospital instead.
He s going in with all these guys that are working out that have all their faculties together, she said.
Days later, he was taken to the Saskatchewan Penitentiary and put in the main population. On Wednesday, a pastor called her to tell her her son died, but did not tell her how. After a few phone calls that yielded no answers with different corrections officials, she found out her son had been assaulted. Laithwaite is now contacting lawyers and is considering a civil lawsuit against the penitentiary.
I think they were grossly negligent right from arresting him and leaving him in the ICU with guards outside his door, right from that moment, she said.
She is in the midst of planning her son s funeral, which will take place next week.
Don t get me wrong, my son was not an angel. But he was a loving, loving son, very smart, she said, adding that he got Physics 30. He s not a dumbass. What he doesn t have control over is the addiction.
-With files from Dave Deibert, Saskatoon StarPhoenix