In support of prisoners and prison justice activism in Canada
Inquest Into Suicide at Ontario Youth Jail

Switch too late for jailed teen
Jan. 21, 2004.

Sixteen-year-old David Meffe's transfer from a jail-like setting at the Toronto Youth Assessment Centre to a group home was "imminent," says a probation officer, recounting a phone conversation with an official at the centre.

But just hours after the call on Oct. 2, 2002, probation officer Alexander Chumak would learn the boy had already killed himself.

David, who had been locked up at the centre for more than a week after his arrest Sept. 22 on charges of defrauding family members, had told Chumak he was afraid and wanted to be moved out of the centre.

David's mother, Dr. Filippa Meffe, called Chumak with the news her son had hanged himself in his cell.

Chumak was testifying at the inquest into David's death while under a suicide watch in the notorious detention centre for 16- and 17-year-old youth who are awaiting trial. The centre has been condemned by Ontario's child advocate as "chaotic and unsafe."

Chumak told the jury that although he was unable to meet with David when he went to the centre on Sept. 24, 2002, he was told that his mother had called the prison to say David was suicidal. Chumak said he was "relieved" that staff had been informed of the situation.

But when he finally met David on Sept. 30, "he was depressed and you could see that he was very emotionally upset at being at TYAC." Chumak also described the last time he saw David alive — a brief meeting in the cell area at Youth Court at 311 Jarvis St. before a brief remand hearing. David seemed particularly upset, he said, by the prosecutor's remarks at the end of the hearing that he would be opposing bail when the case was brought back to court the next day.

"David's face turned ashen and white when he heard the emphatic words `opposing bail.'" Chumak told the jury. "You could just see the change in his face, the shock."

The next morning he received the call from the jail about moving David to "open custody" and then the call from his mother saying he was dead.

"The open setting would have been far more superior than TYAC," said Chumak, who has had 30 years experience as a probation officer. "Had he been placed in an open setting I don't believe he would have attempted suicide."

The inquest continues today.

Related article: Calls Made for Closure of Unsafe Ontario Youth Jail