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Family says racism highlighted in inquest recommendations after drowning death of black B.C. man

Jury of six makes 20 recommendations to Saskatchewan Health Authority following public inquest
Samwel Uko (right) was not given the proper service from the Saskatchewan Health Authority after going to a local hospital to seek help after suffering through a mental health issue. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

WARNING: This story discusses suicide.

A jury of six people has made a list of 20 recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority on ways it can improve care following the death by suicide of Abbotsford’s Samwel Uko.

The former Abbotsford Panthers star running back died on May 21, 2020, after being denied service when he was suffering mental health issues while visiting family in Saskatchewan.

Uko’s uncle Justin Nyee said the list proves that race did play a factor in the way he was treated. Uko, whose family immigrated to Canada from Sudan, drowned himself in Regina’s Wascana Lake after he told hospital workers that he was hearing voices.

He was dragged away by security while screaming for help.

RELATED: Abbotsford football star Samwel Uko dies at age 20

Nyee said that points four and six prove that Uko’s race was a contributing factor to the lack of care he received. Point four states that staff should be “provided cultural diversity training on topics including institutional racism, unconscious bias and micro aggression” and point six states that staff should “incorporate interview questions and processes to incorporate topics like mental health, diversity and biases.”

Nyee said he and his family believe his nephew’s race was a roadblock to his care and the jury confirms this.

“As Samwel’s family we definitely believe if Samwel was not Black he would have been getting the help needed and the jurors agree,” he told The News. “Six ordinary people listen to the witnesses and concluded racism was a big factor.”

He noted that the jurors were made up of three white women and three white men. Nyee added that the recommendations still are not enough.

RELATED: Officials looking for answers after Abbotsford football star found dead in Sask. lake

“To us this was not justice but it’s a little relief because the hospital denied that what happened to Samwel had nothing to do with racism - but the truth is it actually does,” he said. “The jurors saw that too.”

The jurors took four hours of deliberation to come up with these recommendations following five days of discussion at a hotel in Regina. Nyee stated he agreed with all 20 of their recommendations.

The list of recommendations includes incorporating regular staff huddles and meetings on patient-dignity, updated training on mental health care to all staff, including non-medical staff, all staff trained on de-escalation tactics, re-thinking the layout of the emergency room and SHA taking steps to ensure the correct number and type of staff available (including a police officer and psychiatric nurse available 24/7).

Another challenge the family faced during the inquest was health issues for Uko’s mother Joice Guya Issa Bankando. Her blood pressure skyrocketed during the inquest and Nyee told media that she has not been the same since her son’s death.

The Uko family is continuing to pursue a civil lawsuit against the SHA.

RELATED: Family of dead Abbotsford football star sues Saskatchewan government

If you feel like you are in crisis or are considering suicide, please call the Crisis Centre BC suicide hotline at 1-800-784-2433.

Other resources include: Canada Suicide Prevention Service at Toll free: 1-833-456-4566. You can also text 45645 or visit the online chat service at

Some warning signs include suicidal thoughts, anger, recklessness, mood changes, anxiety, lack of purpose, helplessness and substance use.

Former Abbotsford Panthers star running back Samwel Uko died in Wascana Lake on May 21, 2020. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Ben Lypka

About the Author: Ben Lypka

I joined the Abbotsford News in 2015.
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