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Media seek camera in court

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FOR Winnipeg emergency rooms, the fallout from Brian Sinclair's death has been a spike in vio­lence and racist allegations levelled at hospital staff.

This stark claim is contained in court documents filed by the Win­nipeg Regional Health Authority in advance of the inquest into Sinclair's death.

Lawyer Bill Olson says in a writ­ten submission that the increase in violent and "other deviant behaviour" has largely been driven by the "nega­tive media attention" surrounding Sin­clair's death.

Sinclair, an aboriginal man who was wheelchair-bound, was found dead on Sept. 21, 2008, after he waited 34 hours in the Health Sciences Centre ER without being treated for a bladder infection that required a simple cath­eter change and antibiotics. His death made national headlines and raised concerns about the quality of ER care and the treatment of aboriginals in the health-care system.

"This inquest, and the negative media attention that has been gener­ated, apparently has resulted in staff being yelled at more frequently with threats of being killed, and a discern­ible increase in racial comments and accusations," Olson says.

His submission is part of a motion being argued in provincial court to­day. Four TV stations are asking a judge to allow a camera to record wit­ness testimony during the inquest that will also examine emergency-room care in Manitoba.

CTV, CBC, Global and APTN are arguing the inquest is too important to exclude a camera. They propose a sin­gle pool camera be used so they can share what's recorded, in the same way they currently record public in­quiries. They also want to live-stream the proceedings on the Internet, an argument the Free Press is supporting in court.

In court documents, Olson argues the fallout from the case has also re­sulted in fewer nurses who want to work in emergency rooms. He offers no direct evidence in his submission, but says it would be put forward at the inquest.

"You will hear evidence that sev­eral nurses are planning to leave the ER in the months to come, and the WRHA has been unable to find any nurses willing to go into the regional triage orientation as very few people are willing to work triage after this incident.

"The HSC status as a qualified trauma site may come into jeopardy."

Sinclair family lawyer Vilko Zbogar says Olson is being a "Chicken Little." "He's saying 'the sky is falling' with­out anything to back it up," Zbogar says.

The Sinclair family wants a camera in the courtroom to allow more people to view the proceedings, he adds.

"It's a public issue. What happened to Brian Sinclair touches us all."

Olson did not respond to a request for more information and WRHA spokeswoman Heidi Graham says the health authority's concerns would be addressed during the inquest.

Besides the WRHA, the Manitoba Nurses Union also opposes a camera in the courtroom.

Manitoba's attorney general recom­mends that if provincial court Judge Tim Preston sees the merit in allowing a camera into the court, consideration should be given to allow each witness to consent to their testimony being broadcast. The province says that would respect privacy concerns and be a stopgap measure until there is a formal policy on cameras in court.

In his submission, Olson also says a pool camera could cause some nurses, including some of the 18 who were working at the time Sinclair died, to quit their jobs because they would be publicly identified.

"This would be a most unfortunate consequence of any attempt to broad­en the use of cameras in judicial pro­ceedings such as this one," he says.

"These proceedings will be suf­ficiently charged without the added exposure generated by the presence of cameras."

In an affidavit, Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat says the presence of a camera could also dis­suade some nurses from testifying.

She also says some patients in the HSC emergency room have made comments to nurses to the effect, "Oh sure, just don't forget about me so I die there like Brian Sinclair did."

"It is hard to put into words just how strongly that statement affects nurs­es," Mowat says in the affidavit.

She adds the inquest, if televised, would appear on three large TVs in the hospital's ER, forcing distressed staff to turn them off for the duration of the inquest. "It would simply be im­possible for the department to func­tion in the midst of a live TV broad­cast of department staff testifying at the inquest," she says.

Conservative critic Kelvin Goertz­en says nurses may oppose the cam­era because they are afraid to openly criticize government policy.

"It speaks to a larger problem that nurses are afraid to speak," he says.

The Tories have long supported cameras in the courtroom.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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