An online fundraiser for the Headingley jail guard charged in the death of an Indigenous inmate quickly racked up tens of thousands of dollars in donations from across the country before it was abruptly cancelled by GoFundMe.
RCMP arrested Robert Jeffrey Morden, 43, on Friday and charged him with criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life in the death of William Walter Ahmo, 45, last year.
Shortly after Morden’s arrest, a GoFundMe fundraiser was launched for his legal defence by a man named Jeff Sutherland. Attempts to reach Sutherland were unsuccessful.
By Tuesday, more than $50,000 had been donated by guards nationwide, including from members of critical emergency response units.
On Feb. 7, 2021, Ahmo was rushed to hospital following an altercation with the Headingley Correctional Centre’s critical emergency response unit.
Morden worked on the unit, which was called in following a lengthy standoff between Ahmo and staff. Ahmo died seven days later. Manitoba’s chief medical examiner determined the death was homicide.
Ahmo had been in custody pending on charges of aggravated assault and robbery.
By Wednesday, the fundraiser for Morden had been pulled from the website, and a spokesperson for GoFundMe said its "trust and safety team" determined the fundraiser violated its rules.
"GoFundMe prohibits raising money for the legal defence of a violent crime… All donors have been refunded," the spokesperson said.
A fundraiser organized by the Ahmo family for funeral costs and legal expenses was launched shortly after Ahmo’s death. As of Wednesday, the GoFundMe, which sought $50,000, had raised $6,625.
Since the Ahmo family’s fundraiser doesn’t seek financial support for the "legal defence of a violent crime," it does not violate GoFundMe’s terms of services.
In addition to the financial support from correctional officers across Canada, Morden has also received backing from Greg Skelly, head of corrections for Manitoba Justice.
Shortly after news broke that Morden had been arrested, Skelly sent an email to staff stating that Ahmo had been "armed" and had posed a "significant threat," adding the guards who responded to the incident were "acting in good faith."
Once the charges against Morden have been dealt with in court, the chief medical examiner is expected to call an inquest.
The revelation that GoFundMe pulled the fundraiser for Morden’s legal defence isn’t the first time the online platform has been in the news this week.
On Tuesday, it was reported that GoFundMe had frozen access to more than $4.7 million raised for the "Freedom Convoy" — the parade of truckers that’s driving to Ottawa this week to protest against vaccine mandates.
A GoFundMe spokesperson told The Canadian Press that organizers of fundraisers must be "transparent about the flow of funds and have a clear plan for how those funds will be spent."
"Funds will be safely held until the organizer is able to provide the documentation to our team about how funds will be properly distributed," the spokesperson said.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.