April 2, 2010
By: Jen Skerritt and Gabrielle Giroday
City police will review evidence surrounding the death of double amputee Brian Sinclair after a national legal expert lambasted the force for its “shocking” failure to investigate why Sinclair was found dead after 34 hours in a hospital emergency room.
Renowned criminal and human rights lawyer Clayton Ruby criticized the Winnipeg Police Service on Wednesday, saying he believes charges of criminal negligence causing death and failure to provide the necessaries of life could be laid against Health Sciences Centre and medical staff in charge of its ER.
Winnipeg police never investigated what factors led to the double-amputee’s death in an inner-city hospital waiting room — an omission Ruby called “inexplicable.” He urged the police force to reconsider and launch a probe into Sinclair’s death, saying this isn’t the Winnipeg of 50 years ago when the plight of aboriginals and the disabled was dismissed.
Sinclair, a wheelchair-bound aboriginal man, was found dead on Sept. 21, 2008, after he waited 34 hours in the HSC emergency room without being treated for a bladder infection that required a simple catheter change and antibiotics.
“The police are aware of this obligation. They’re not dumb,” Ruby said during a teleconference in Toronto early Wednesday. “They figure they can get away with not doing an investigation in this case because of who he was and the circumstances.”
Ruby’s comments prompted Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill to issue a statement saying officers will review any material about the death the Sinclair family’s lawyers have. If any evidence of criminal wrongdoing exists, police said they will investigate fully.
“I want to emphasize that, prior to (Wednesday) the WPS had never received any suggestion that there had been evidence of criminal wrongdoing in relation to the death of Mr. Sinclair,” said the prepared statement.
McCaskill said police did not attend the hospital after Sinclair died because investigators from the medical examiner’s office did not ask them to. Chief Medical Examiner Thambirajah Balachandra confirmed Wednesday that police were not needed to investigate the death, McCaskill said.
He said the only contact police had with medical examiner investigators was over how to notify Sinclair’s next-of-kin.
“They determined it wasn’t necessary for us to be involved, simple as that,” McCaskill said.
Ruby weighed in on the high-profile case after the Sinclair family sought his legal opinion, although he did not receive any financial compensation and will not represent the family at the upcoming inquest. Ruby doesn’t know of any other cases where hospitals have faced criminal charges, but said Sinclair’s case is unique enough to warrant a full police investigation.
His opinion has been endorsed by two United Nations international human rights experts, a leading American law centre, and 26 Canadian criminal law professors.
“They’re a modern police force in a major city and this is just inexplicable,” Ruby said. “Fifty years ago, you could say, ‘Ah, it’s an Indian, who cares.’ Or, ‘He’s a cripple, it didn’t matter.’ But we don’t do that, and I’m sure it’s not being done here. But it is inexplicable that there’s been no investigation.”
Winnipeg health officials say they alert police when they suspect a crime has occurred in city hospitals.
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority spokeswoman Heidi Graham said officials notified the chief medical examiner and launched a critical incident investigation into Sinclair’s death, but there was no suggestion of a criminal offence during interviews with staff and a review of the emergency room security videos.
However, she said the health authority will co-operate fully with police if they decide to go ahead with an investigation.
“Unfortunately, the legal opinion released (Wednesday) appears to make assumptions based on erroneous information,” Graham said.
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