MPP Jeff Yurek: More mental health and addiction supports needed to stop deaths at EMDC

city_scope_logo-cmykSt. Thomas will be the venue for the latest inquest into an inmate death at the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre (EMDC).
The coroner’s inquest into the death of 47-year-old Michael Fall on July 30, 2017, will begin Sept. 23 at the Elgin County Courthouse.
Fall was one of five inmates to die that year at the London institution which has experienced 15 deaths in the past decade.
An inquest is mandatory under the Coroners Act and it will examine the circumstances surrounding his death. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing future deaths.
It’s certainly not the first inquest into an inmate death and, most recently, on June 22 another male prisoner was found unresponsive in his cell and later died in hospital.
Two days later, Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP Jeff Yurek advised in a statement, “I will continue to work with the solicitor general to ensure the safety of correctional officers, staff and inmates.”

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Change of environment accompanied by a climate of controversy for MPP Jeff Yurek

city_scope_logo-cmykCan’t imagine Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP would immediately suggest enjoyable to describe his first week as the province’s head of the environment, conservation and parks ministry.
Just days after the cabinet shuffle that moved Yurek out of the transportation portfolio, he found himself in Halifax this past Thursday (June 27) at a meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
The gathering allowed ministers the opportunity to brainstorm on such issues as plastic waste, climate change, air quality, and wastewater.
In a release issued following the discussions, Yurek noted “we are deeply disappointed that (federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine) Minister McKenna continues to focus on her tax plan, disguised as a climate change measure, and refuses to respect the legitimate ways provinces and territories, including Ontario, are tackling climate change in their own unique jurisdictions.”

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Provincial dollars to support St. Thomas crisis intervention team because ‘mental health is truly a community issue’

city_scope_logo-cmykWith a ballooning caseload and the threat of budgetary dollars evaporating next month, yesterday’s (May 24) announcement the provincial funding tap is to be turned on couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for the local branch of the CMHA and the St. Thomas Police Service.
The significance of the announcement was underscored through the appearance of a pair of Ford government heavyweights on hand for the investment news.
Solicitor-General Sylvia Jones, accompanied by Deputy Premier and Minister of Health and Long-Term Care Christine Elliott, took to the podium outside the police station on CASO Crossing to announce $70,775 in funding that will allow a CMHA caseworker to continue working with the police service’s mobile crisis intervention team. Continue reading

2016 city budget “generally preserves” existing service levels to the public

Deliberations begin 3:30 p.m. Monday into the proposed 2016 capital and operating budgets for St. Thomas.
In his opening remarks contained in the budget binder, director of finance David Aristone indicates at this stage of the process, city ratepayers can anticipate a 2.32% hike in the property tax levy.
The proposed levy for this year is $48,721,653, up from the actual 2015 levy of just over $47 million.
Proposed capital projects this year would require almost $21.8 million in funding. Continue reading

A quotation for everything: the past year in review


It’s been a City Scope tradition to greet the incoming year by surveying the past 365 days to savor the wit and wisdom of our elected representatives.

As a collector of quotes from a variety of sources, it lends credence to the words of wisdom from British author Dorothy L. Sayers: “I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”

Of course, when media scribes document a response or comment to the pages for posterity, we must be prepared for the inevitable charge of being taken out of context.

Or, as one anonymous wag noted, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will be misquoted, then used against you.”

With the preamble out of the way, let’s glean through a year’s worth of columns to fully appreciate what transpired in 2012.
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There’s life – and pressing concerns – beyond the GTA


Two examples this week to illustrate Premier Dalton McGuinty’s complete disdain for life beyond the confines of the Greater Toronto Area.
From the don’t-bother-me-with-the-details file, McGuinty made it clear this week he’s not interested in observing first-hand the incendiary conditions at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
Not only will the Premier not accept a challenge from Warren (Smokey) Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, to visit the beleaguered facility, he won’t comment any further beyond his observation two weeks ago on a visit to London.
“Obviously, there is more work to be done and I know this is a very important file on the minister’s desk.”
Where, for too long, the file has sat.
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Survey snafu begs question: Is city getting good value?


An anonymous letter landed in the City Scope in-box this week with an attached sticky note reading, “Nice to see a local business trying to screw the city out of $14K.”
Well, that sure caught our attention – at the same time sending up warning flags as to the motivation for passing along such correspondence.
The letter is a copy of a disciplinary decision from the Council of the Association of Ontario Land Surveyors (AOLS) relating to allegations of professional misconduct on the part of surveyor Ward Houghton of Houghton + Houghton Inc., St. Thomas.
To summarize, Houghton bid on a city surveying project dealing with the infrastructure needs of Fairview Avenue, from Elm Street to Southdale Line. As part of the project, the city committed to providing the legal survey.
Houghton’s bid of $32,770 lost out to the lowest bid of $18,871 from Callon.Dietz Inc., of London.
Houghton subsequently informed Terry Dietz of Callon.Dietz Inc., that Houghton + Houghton owned all of the copyrights to plans prepared by his firm dealing with the subject area and the cost of supplying copies of such would be approximately $40,000.
As a compromise, Houghton suggested Dietz withdraw his bid and Houghton + Houghton, as the only other bidder, would likely be awarded the project. If such were the case, Houghton proposed to hire Dietz to perform most of the work on the project and pay the London firm the same amount of $18,871.
At first glance this would appear to be somewhat unethical or unprofessional and Dietz complained to the AOLS, leading to a disciplinary hearing.
The crux of the matter is the understanding an AOLS member “has a statutory duty to share surveyor’s field notes for a ‘reasonable fee’.”
The disciplinary committee deemed $40,000 for approximately 200 Houghton + Houghton plans was “far and above what most members of the profession would consider fair and reasonable.”
Speaking to Houghton on Friday, he told City Scope all he is seeking is clarification on what is considered a reasonable sum for work in which his firm owns the copyrights.
Fair enough.
The disciplinary committee proved unsympathetic and slapped Houghton with a $2,500 fine and determined Houghton be required to successfully pass a course in professional ethics at a college or university level.
Ironic in that Houghton has for years served as a lecturer for the AOLS on boundary and survey law.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
In our meeting with Houghton, he produced a copy of the finished drawings submitted to Ric Radauskas, project coordinator for the city’s environmental services department. These drawings were far from complete, Houghton argues, and did not include an OLS seal of certification, as required in the city’s request for quote.
Throwing the accuracy of the Dietz drawings into doubt and raising the question of whether the city obtained true value in accepting the lowest bid of $18,871, an amount Houghton asserts is “a low-ball figure” instead of retaining the services of a local firm city staff has employed on numerous occasions in the past.
If such is the case, then who really screwed the city financially?
We’ll continue to follow this survey snafu to determine if city staff are aware of the the quality of the material they have paid for and accepted.

Earlier this week, the T-J referenced a letter from Elgin-Middlesex-London Conservative MPP Jeff Yurek to Madelliene Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, alerting her of the dramatic deterioration of conditions at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
The closing paragraph of Yurek’s letter is worth highlighting: “This problem will not go away if we ignore it. It certainly won’t go away by muzzling those who are trying to inform the public of the conditions as we saw this weekend with the local OPSEU president being reprimanded for talking to the press.
“That is why I am offering to accompany you on a tour of the whole facility at EMDC. Afterward, we can discuss the issue with staff and management. We need to get the ball rolling before things spiral out-of-control at EMDC.”
We have approached Yurek to request the media be included on the tour and we will continue to stress the need for transparency on this powder-keg that could easily erupt into a full-scale riot in the coming months.

The point was raised in this corner last week as to whether St. Thomas was in the running as a possible home for Texas-based food-distribution giant Sysco, which recently announced it will build a 400,000-square-foot distribution facility in Woodstock which could eventually employ 250-350 people.
A reader mused, “was the St. Thomas brain trust (Economic Development Corp. and city council) even in the game? If not,why not?”
That prompted Grace Northcott to email the following observation.
“Recently the EDC has been given funding from city council to maintain it’s operation because it no longer is self sufficient through real estate sales on land or otherwise. My question is simple, if public funds are supporting this agency why isn’t the public receiving regular progress reports?
“In addition, during the last election most of the candidates stressed jobs and economic development. Is it time aldermen provide a progress report of what they have done to support their promises?
This should not be difficult to do since all of city council is on the board of EDC.”

“This is the most vicious attack on the most vulnerable of our society and, to me, it is unacceptable.”
Elgin Warden Bill Walters at Thursday’s open house to gather information on the closing of the local ODSP office slated for October.

City Scope appears every Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to

Will provincial dithering ignite EMDC powderkeg?


Just ahead of us on page 5 of Saturday’s T-J is a grim accounting of life for both the guards and inmates at Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.
“There’s going to be a riot within the next couple of months,” warns Trish Goden, a veteran of a riot in the Whitby jail and president of Local 108 of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union representing jail guards.
Goden continues: “That’s the way it’s heading. The inmates are saying it was peaceful this time, but next time it’s not going to be. They don’t like being locked in all the time. They don’t like being crammed in. I understand the reason they are agitated and I don’t see those reasons going away.”

Interior of a holding cell for two inmates at the Elgin-Middlesex Detention Centre.

Take a close look at the photo at right of a cell housing two inmates. Goden suggests you wouldn’t treat dogs in this manner.
“If you had the same amount of dogs in that space, you’d be fined. They’d take them away from you. But for some reason, humans are different. I know they’re incarcerated, but there has to be a standard of life here.”
Coincidentally, what should arrive in the electronic mailbag Friday afternoon but a high-octane media release from MPP Jeff Yurek who takes a jab at the Libs “for letting conditions deteriorate so drastically.”
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