The family of a homeless man who was buried in an unmarked grave has enlisted the assistance of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg to find out why it took authorities four months to inform them of the death.
Patrick Hall spoke out at a news conference at Thunderbird House Monday, flanked by his son and Aboriginal Council president Damon Johnston.
"I did my own investigation and it wasn’t a hard process. It was just a matter of connecting the dots," Hall said. "They didn’t follow through with all the avenues to find his relatives."
Johnston said the council will conduct its own investigation, contacting police, the chief medical examiner’s (CME) office and hospital authorities to answer questions about the process they use to identify homeless people who die and the efforts made to find their family.
Chickadee Richard, a clan mother with the Native’s Women’s Coalition on Missing and Murdered Women said the experience the Halls went through raises troubling questions in her mind.
"I’m sure the community is not going to be too happy to learn that up to 75 people a year are being buried without an identity," Richard said. "There are obviously flaws here in the system."
Wilson Hall, homeless by choice, died of a heart attack at St. Boniface Hospital in April. His identity was known and after the hospital made initial attempts to find next of kin, the body was handed to the CME's office, which held it for 28 days. He was buried under a nameless marker in Brookside Cemetery.
The family was notified this summer, when relatives filed a formal missing person's report with police and a match was finally made.
Patrick Hall said yesterday initially the family was told their brother had not been identified, which raised more questions for them. The CME's office investigated to find out why family was not notified until the summer.
The family insists they could have been tracked through provincial social assistance, police or health system records.
Patrick Hall told reporters he learned last week after meeting with CME officials that hospital and police authorities found a prescription pill bottle with his brother’s name and doctor in his brother’s jacket. But, he said, hospital authorities didn’t contact the doctor.
"When I asked why, (one official at the meeting), he said, 'that’s a good question.'"
Patrick Hall said the records for his brother’s prescription likely listed his own address, that of another brother, and the address for the Salvation Army Booth Centre, which was Wilson Hall’s last known address.
In 2002, when another brother in the family died, police asked media to run the man's photograph, which quickly turned up family members to claim the body.
The CME investigation did turn up evidence that two agencies had made efforts to contact Hall's family, and the CME's office was told no family was on record at income assistance, a discrepancy that Hall said makes no sense since his brother’s next of kin could have been tracked down through the justice system because his brother had a criminal record.
Approximately 75 unclaimed bodies were turned over to the CME's office in 2012. Half were not connected with next of kin. The Anatomy Act doesn't expressly spell out which agency has responsibility to make such efforts.