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Sinclair inquest should be an inquiry: family

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WINNIPEG — The family of Brian Sinclair is asking the province to change the inquest looking into his death at the Health Science Centre’s emergency room into a public inquiry.

Robert Sinclair, the man’s cousin, said the family wants to make sure his death was not in vain.

Sinclair, a homeless and disabled aboriginal man, died in Sept. 2008, after waiting 34 hours in the emergency room of the Health Sciences Centre.

"We cannot sit idly by while the kind of indifference that happened to Brian keeps happening to others," he said.

The family’s lawyer Vilko Zbogar, said the inquiry should have the "same spirit of courage, compassion and audacity that led to the establishment to the aboriginal justice inquiry."

Earlier today, Provincial Court Judge Ray Wyant said in a ruling that the provincial government and the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority should pay more money for the legal expenses of Sinclair's family in an upcoming inquest looking into his death.

The legal aid rate which the government has offered to the family to date is inadequate for their participation in an inquest that will be lengthy and complicated, Wyant said.

Instead, he said, Sinclair's family should be allowed to hire one senior lawyer, at a rate of $210 per hour for a maximum of nine hours per day. If the family hired a lawyer from Toronto, meals and accommodation and travel expenses would not be paid.

Wyant said while his decision is not binding on the government and WRHA, he hopes it will be followed.

In a brief statement outside the Law Courts, the Sinclair family's lawyer, Vilko Zbogar, of Toronto, said Wyant's decision vindicates what the family has said all along.

"The arbitrary cap (on legal fees) is seriously inadequate," Zbogar said.

"It's only fair for Robert Sinclair and his family to have the same access to this proceeding as the WRHA. The family hopes the WRHA and the government of Manitoba will do the worthy thing and abide by the judge's suggestion."

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said the province still study Wyant’s decision before making a decision on how much it should pay the Sinclair family and their legal team.

"We had made some proposals on money," Swan said. "(Wyant’s recommendation) is more than we had offered. We’re going to sit down and look at whether it’s reasonable balancing the need for the Sinclair family to be part of this, but at the same time protecting the taxpayers of Manitoba."

Swan also said the province is also looking at policy for the fair payment for lawyers of families granted standing at inquests. Currently, it handles such matters on a case-by-case basis.

The idea of such a policy was raised almost a decade ago following a lengthy inquest into pediatric cardiac surgery. The inquest examined the deaths of a dozen children, mainly infants, during or after botched open-heart surgery at Health Sciences Centre in 1994.

Swan said the province followed the compensation guidelines of Saskatchewan and Ontario in coming up with its original offer to the Sinclairs and their lawyers.

"Even if we had a policy in place . . . I’m not sure that we’d be any further ahead than we are at this moment with the media coming to my office to talk about this," he said.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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