'His soul is still here,' Family upset EMDC crosses to the dead will be removed
For the families of the 18 people who have died, a roadside memorial of crosses in front of Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC) is a sacred place.
It’s certainly true for Judy Struthers. Her grandson Justin, whom she raised as her own, died inside the jail in December 2017.
“This is the last place he’s been so to me his soul is still here, his spirit.”
But the union representing hundreds of jail workers argues the memorial also represents an ongoing source of psychological stress for its members.
Their position is part of a decision by the Grievance Settlement Board. It handles Ontario public sector complaints.
In May, the body ruled the memorial crosses must be removed from their current site just off Exeter Road in front of the access road to the jail.
The board stated the province had 90 days to comply and to notify families of the deceased.
The decision was rendered on May 3rd.
Some families indicate the province has yet to reach out to them.
Justin Struthers death, his family concurs, appears to one of those mentioned in the grievance board paper.
It cites the local union president of the jail guards who personally responded to Justin Struthers's death. She watched over his body for five hours while waiting for a corner.
The report states, “The circumstances surrounding the incident were extraordinarily upsetting," for the guard.
But Struthers counters the concern.
“And what about our stress? Almost three years now, my husband and my family face this every day.”
But it is not just the deaths the union finds disturbing, according to the decision.
Since the crosses began to appear in 2018 accompanying protests have included signs with photographs.
“The photographs were particularly disturbing and upsetting for (the guard). (The guard) gets upset when she is confronted on a twice-daily basis with the memorial every time she comes to and from work.”
Struthers tells CTV News the photos were of her son in his coffin. She contends they were taken an hour before his funeral to show his body's condition.
The memorial, per the order, is to be taken down by August 1, 2021 leaving the question of whether it will be moved elsewhere.
“They don’t want it here so people can see it. They want it hidden," Struthers says.
The report says the union will work with the province and the families to find another location.
London Lawyer Kevin Egan an advocate for inmates at the EMDC is upset the families found out about the decision to move the memorial 47 days after the decision. He says the memorial should stay where it is.
“People can see it as they drive by. It brings it to the top of their minds, that there is a jail here where people keep dying.”
Tina McCool, the aunt of Adam Kargus, who died at the jail in 2013, did not comment on the movement of the memorial. But she did say “If the guards had done their jobs and watched over the inmate's none of the crosses would have to be there.”
It’s a point Struthers agreed with as she held the sign showing her son’s coffin photos on Exeter Road Saturday.
She vows to still be at the corner, for four to five hours a day, twice a week, even if the crosses are removed. Her family still has many unanswered questions about Justin's death.
“If these crosses are going to be removed, that’s not gonna stop us from being here.”