Housing activist who died hours after hospital release ‘wasn’t a nobody,’ says Ontario family seeking answers


An Ontario mother says she’s getting conflicting answers to questions about the death of a 22-year-old housing activist who had been living in Hamilton, including why Vanessa Amos was reportedly discharged from hospital the same day they died.

Vanessa Amos, also known as Ezra, is pictured in late November 2021 during a news conference by the Hamilton Encampment Support Network. Police say Amos was found dead on March 31 after an apparent fall from the top of a construction site. Amos’s family is searching for answers. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

WARNING: This story contains reference to a possible suicide.

It’s been five days since Brandy Schlemko learned her daughter died after reportedly falling from a building under construction in downtown Toronto, and she’s still searching for answers.

The Ontario Provincial Police knocked on Schlemko’s door in Jarvis, Ont., about 50 kilometres south of Hamilton, to tell her Vanessa Amos died after being found on the street at the corner of Bathurst and Bloor streets in Toronto.

Since then, Schlemko, with the help of Amos’s friends, has been trying to piece together the final days of the 22-year-old’s life, but says they’re facing roadblocks as they try to get information from police, the hospital where Amos reportedly was checked into shortly before their death, and the coroner. 

Amos “cannot just be swept under the rug and off the street like a piece of garbage. I’m not going to let that happen,” Schlemko said during a Monday news conference in Toronto.

The Hamilton-based activist was well known among encampment supporters in the city. They often went by the name Ezra and identified as trans non-binary, using they/them pronouns. (Family and friends said that before their death, they had gone back to using their birth name, Vanessa.)   

“We, alongside ‘Nessa’s family, demand that the Toronto Police Services release the details surrounding ‘Nessa’s death, hospitalizations, and allow their family to see their child’s body,” fellow encampment activist Sahra Soudi told those at the Monday news conference.

Two of the many questions Schlemko says she’s trying to answer are:

  • Why was Amos reportedly discharged from hospital the same day a physician made an assessment that Amos was at risk of harming themselves?
  • How did Amos reportedly fall from a Toronto construction site?

“It just doesn’t make sense,” Schlemko said.

TTC incident led to Amos going to hospital

The details of what happened to Amos last week are a patchwork of reports from those who interacted with them. 

The Toronto Police Service told CBC that Amos was pronounced dead Thursday, March 31, after being found on the ground near a construction site. But events Schlemko is questioning started the day before.

Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) spokesperson Stuart Green said transit special constables arrived to Bathurst station after reports of a person in apparent medical distress.

Toronto police Const. Laura Brabant said it happened around 10:30 p.m. ET.

Green said that, as usual in these cases, TTC contacted first responders. Police said an “incident with a TTC special constable” led to Amos being arrested for attempted assault, and they were given a court date of May 24. 

Brandy Schlemko, right, gives an emotional speech Monday about the death of her daughter Vanessa Amos. Schlemko says she wants more transparency from police, the hospital, the TTC and Ontario’s Office of the Chief Coroner. (CBC)

Amos was released from custody when paramedics took them to the hospital for assessment, according to police.

Documents found by Amos’s mother in their apartment and viewed by CBC News appear to show Amos was taken to Toronto Western Hospital on March 30.

One document is a psychiatric form filled out by a physician on March 31 that “certified” the physician had reason to believe Amos threatened or attempted to harm themselves, and had a mental disorder that “likely will result in … serious bodily harm to yourself.” 

It states the hospital could hold Amos for up to 72 hours.

Another document appears to show a registered nurse discharged Amos on March 31 because of a court date. A third document, signed by a different physician, said discharge occurred at noon that day. 

It’s unclear why Amos was released the same day despite the initial conclusions.

Toronto Western Hospital spokesperson Alexa Giorgi declined to comment on the documents, citing patient privacy laws, but said the executor of Amos’s estate or a family member would be given information about their admission.

Giorgi said the hospital is following its standard procedure for reviewing the circumstances of the case.

She said if a doctor issues a patient a form such as the one found in Amos’s apartment, it’s because of concern the patient could harm someone and they would want to do a psychiatric assessment.

Depending on the assessment, a patient can be held there involuntarily for up to 72 hours.

“A high threshold must be met in order to hold a patient against their will as it deprives them of their autonomy and decision-making,” Giorgi said.

If the evaluation doesn’t find grounds to keep the individual in the hospital, they can leave when they want.

“Vanessa should not have been out of the hospital,” Schlemko said Monday.

Hospital discharges Amos hours before death

Later on Thursday, Brabant said that at 8:07 p.m., Toronto police officers responded to reports of someone falling from the roof of a construction site at Bathurst Street and Bloor Street West.

Amos was found on the ground and taken to hospital by paramedics, Brabant said, but was pronounced dead in hospital.

“The investigation is ongoing, but at this time there is no evidence to suggest the death is suspicious,” she said.

It’s unclear if investigators have spoken to witnesses or the construction company, EllisDon, as of Tuesday morning. 

EllisDon declined to comment, citing the police investigation.

I want answers and I’m not going to stop until I get them. ​​​​– Brandy Schlemko, mother of Vanessa Amos

Schlemko said she has received conflicting statements from police about some details of the case. She said they have interacted with four different officers, initiating contact every time, and called police engagement with the family “unacceptable.”

Brabant said she couldn’t comment on further details of the case because it could compromise the investigation.

Schlemko also said she has yet to see her daughter’s body and find out how they were identified. Stephanie Rea from the Office of the Chief Coroner wouldn’t comment on the case to CBC.

“I’ve got nothing but the runaround,” Schlemko said. 

Lawyer Dean Paquette told CBC News he is working with Amos’s family to determine their next steps.

Amos remembered as artist, activist

A vigil is planned for Amos at Bathurst and Bloor streets for 7 p.m. Tuesday evening.

On Monday, Schlemko spoke about Amos, as friends, housing and anti-racism activists gathered around her, in front of the TPS 14 Division building on Dovercourt Road.

Through tears, she called Amos “a beautiful person” who was loved by people and “wasn’t a nobody.”

Schlemko also wants to know how Amos got into the construction site in the first place.

Vanessa Amos is being remembered as a fierce activist and as someone with a love of art and animals. (Submitted by Brandy Schlemko)

Amos, who’s being remembered as a fierce activist, was among the six people arrested at an encampment eviction at Hamilton’s J.C. Beemer Park in November.

The charges were withdrawn in March after the activists agreed to enter into peace bonds.

Schlemko also said Amos loved painting and was an animal lover.

“I want answers and I’m not going to stop until I get them.”

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, there is help out there:

  • The Canada Suicide Prevention Service: 1-833-456-4566 (phone) | 45645 (Text, 4 p.m. to midnight ET only) | crisisservicescanada.ca.
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone. Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.
  • In Quebec (French): Association Québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)
  • Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre.
  • Trans Lifeline – 1-877-330-6366. It offers full anonymity and confidentiality.
  • COAST — 905-972-8338 or Toll Free: 1-844-972-8338.

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