The inquest into the 2008 death of Brian Sinclair at Health Sciences Centre's ER has heard a controversial police investigation report will not be tendered as evidence. If the full report is not made available for public scrutiny, Manitobans may be deprived of a critical element in the story of how Mr. Sinclair died in the waiting room, and the roles of HSC staff in that affair.
An inquest is tasked precisely to find the circumstances and cause of an untoward death, particularly when public authorities were involved. But as with public inquiries, inquests are held to serve a broader public interest, as part of the accountability of those authorities.
The Winnipeg Police Service investigation was launched in the wake of the outcry that Mr. Sinclair, who died of a bladder infection from a blocked catheter, could have sat for 34 hours in the waiting without seeing a doctor or receiving medical attention. Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra revealed sometime after the death that the double amputee, who had a severe speech impediment, was approaching the triage desk before being redirected to the waiting room.
The police report was forwarded for opinion on criminal charges -- failing in professional duty can be considered criminal neglect -- to an out-of-province Crown attorney, who recommended none be laid. The public ought to be able to scrutinize that decision, especially since a critical-incident review by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority will not be filed as evidence with the inquest, as per provincial statute.
Murray Trachtenberg, representing the Sinclair family, said Crown counsel David Frayer has provided Vol. 1 and 2 of the report to lawyers representing the various parties, but he wants all the exhibits the police report referred to but were not filed at the inquest.
The province says police reports are not filed as evidence at inquests, but they should be, particularly in a case that involves allegations of extraordinary neglect by medical and hospital personnel. Making public pieces of the report -- which may happen as lawyers examine witnesses -- is insufficient as it strips the report of scope and context. The public cannot rely on the lawyers of parties serving other interests to speak for the public.
The Fatality Inquiries Act, both expressly and in spirit, speaks to the role of inquests in protecting public interest, presided over by provincial court judges to ensure that review is full and transparent. A document can be redacted to protect personal privacy and irrelevant details. Justice Minister Andrew Swan must recognize this and lift any impediment to the WPS report's full disclosure.