Samwel Uko’s family continues search for justice from the system that failed their son | CBC News


That’s how the parents of Samwel Uko describe the loss of their 20-year-old son.

Joice Guya Issa Bankando and Taban Uko have not spoken publicly about their son’s death since his body was found in Regina’s Wascana Lake two years ago — a death they believe is the result of suicide.

Now, as an inquest into their son’s death gets underway this week, they’ve broken their silence in an exclusive interview with CBC News. 

A memorial for Samwel Uko in Abbotsford, B.C. (Baneet Braich/for CBC)

For Samwel’s family, the inquest is just the latest in a push for answers. What happened and why did it have to be him? 

The journey is fuelled by the belief that their son didn’t receive proper care because he was Black.

“The scale of justice must be balanced. That’s what I’m looking for,”  said Samwel’s father Taban, speaking through a translator. 

The scale of justice

Samwel was found dead in Wascana Lake on May 21, 2020.

He had sought medical help twice for mental health issues that day before. He was forcibly removed from the Regina General Hospital.

The body of the talented football player was found just a few hours later. 

Samwel’s family believes that his race affected how nurses, doctors and the entire health-care system responded to his mental health crisis.

They hope that something good can result from the inquest and that what happened to their son will never happen to anyone else. 

“People should be treated with respect, regardless of how you look,” Taban said. 

Justin Nyee, Samwel’s uncle, said the family doesn’t just want their quest for justice to end with the inquest. They believe those responsible should be held to account. 

Justin Nyee, Samwel Uko’s uncle, said he wants those responsible for forcibly removing Samwel from Regina General Hospital to be held to account. (Omayra Issa/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has already apologized to Samwel’s family. It would later admit in a legal document that it had failed to provide follow-up care, and paid $81,000 in damages to the family.

Taban remains unhappy with the SHA over the treatment Samwell received and how officials dealt with their family. 

He said the family could not consult lawyers about what taking the money would mean after being approached by the SHA.

“[They] said just take this money and don’t tell everybody because people are dying with Corona,” he said, saying the representative expressed concern that the family members of those who died from COVID-19 would also sue the health authority. 

WATCH| Video shows Samwel Uko being removed from Regina General Hospital: 

Video shows Samwel Uko being removed from Regina General Hospital

Samwel Uko sought help twice on the day of his death. Uko was removed by security from the Regina General Hospital.

The following day, the SHA would tell the media that it had apologized and provided the money to Samwel’s family.

Taban said they haven’t touched a dollar of the cash. 

“If they need the money, we are ready to give them back,” he said. 

A makeshift memorial has been set up on a shoreline of Regina’s Wascana Lake, where witnesses say Samwel Uko entered the water the day he died. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

To the family’s knowledge, no individual has been held responsible and no criminal charges have been laid. 

“They admitted that they did not give him the care he deserved, admitted he should not be kicked out of the hospital. They admitted they did not follow the process,” said Nyee. 

“Someone failed to do their job and that person should lose their job and they should actually face criminal charges for it.” 

Racism in health care

For community activists like Muna da Ciman, Samwel’s death is a sign that the health-care system is not well equipped to deal with patients from diverse backgrounds. 

“[Mental health] has no limitation to it, it affects everybody,” she said.

Ciman said the impacts of mental illness aren’t only on an individual, but on their families and community. 

She said she is cautious when going for medical treatment and that she always feel more at ease when someone who is Black is looking after her. 

She said the incident has made many in Saskatchewan’s Black community lose faith in the health-care system and is calling for more culturally appropriate mental health services in the province.

“If that night we had people with cultural sensitivity around or somebody who looked like Samwel, maybe Samwel would have been alive today. When I go to a hospital and I see a Black person or I see a Black doctor, I feel good, then I feel safe,” she added.

In a statement, the Saskatchewan Health Authority said “in terms of cultural responsiveness, [it] is committed to have a workforce that is representative of all demographics that can better support our diverse population.”

Asked by the CBC if staff has received anti-racism training, the SHA said “measures are already in place that we anticipate will start to better position the SHA to respond to the diverse needs of our population, including compulsory cultural responsiveness training as part of employee orientation.”

A life cut short

Samwel’s parents say they will carry the wound of their son’s tragic death with them forever. 

Taban said his work has been affected, leaving him he’s unable to do what he should be capable of. 

Both parents spoke about the promise of what could have been and the disappointment that Samwel’s bright future will now go unfulfilled. 

He would’ve been able to finish school and complete his education. 

WATCH| Sask. Health Authority apologizes for not admitting Black man to hospital twice before he died: 

Sask. health authority apologizes for not admitting Black man to hospital twice before he died

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has apologized to the family of a young Black man who died after being twice refused admission to a Regina hospital in the midst of a mental health crisis. Despite the apology, Samwel Uko’s family is calling for change in the health-care system, along with more support for Black Saskatchewanians, especially those in crisis.

His mother remembers her son as someone who never had an issue with anyone and who always had a smile on his face. It makes his loss so much more painful.

“I should have seen his future. It is gone,”  Bankando said. 

The family has seen the video of their son being forcibly removed from the hospital. 

They say the way he was treated should not have happened to a human being. 

“I love my son,” Bankando said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, here’s where to get help:

This guide from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health outlines how to talk about suicide with someone you’re worried about.

For more updates check below links and stay updated with News AKMI.
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