Sask. Penitentiary inmates appeared friendly before 2017 killing: testimony

When Chris Van Camp entered a Saskatchewan Penitentiary cell, his alleged killer welcomed him like a friend, according to testimony from correctional officers.

Tyler Vandewater and Van Camp exchanged a partial handshake and hug, which officers call “bro’ing it up,” correctional officer Robert Nye said.

“They seemed to be friends,” Nye said.

Van Camp, 37, died the following morning on June 7, 2017. Vandewater is charged with second-degree murder in the death.

The judge-alone trial began Monday in Prince Albert Court of Queen’s Bench, though the trial hasn’t heard testimony about the specific cause of death.

Van Camp had been released from prison the previous April, but the family said he’d developed an addiction while incarcerated. After an overdose outside of prison, he was arrested and taken back to the penitentiary.

The night he arrived, Nye noted Van Camp had lost weight, appeared tired and was moving sluggishly in the prison. As he described Van Camp’s condition, the victim’s mother shed tears in court.

“It’s really emotional. I’ve waited two and a half years to get here,” Van Camp’s mother Lauren Laithwaite told reporters. “It’s taken its toll on me, for sure.”

After an assessment, Van Camp was placed in a maximum-security range for Terror Squad gang members. Members of other gangs – primarily the Indian Posse and Native Syndicate – are held in other areas, court heard.

Because the penitentiary was “quite full,” Nye said Van Camp needed to be placed in a cell with two bunks. He’d shared a cell with Vandewater before, and both men consented to doing so again.

Under cross-examination by defence lawyer Brian Pfefferle, Nye testified double-bunking was an issue, which was not the norm, but common for the penitentiary at the time.

He also described the emergency button mounted to a steel plate in each cell, which allows inmates to alert correctional officers of potential dangers.

Van Camp was never violent and had no personal problems with staff, Nye said. Another correctional officer, Almicar Rodas, said he never had an issue with Van Camp.

Rodas completed a security and mental health screening process, using phrases like “calm” and “serene” in court to describe Van Camp’s demeanour during the intake process.

“My conclusion was he was OK going back to the range and we had no concerns,” Rodas testified.

Rodas completed hourly checks of the unit but said he never noted anything unusual. As Vandewater watched TV on one bunk, Van Camp appeared to be asleep on the other bunk covered in a blanket, he said.

“The range was quiet. It was like any other night,” Rodas said.

Correctional officer Sharlee Levac testified that Van Camp underwent a “double-bunk assessment,” in which he said he had no concerns sharing a cell with his alleged killer.

During a police interview, she said Van Camp’s killing was “truly a shock.”

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