Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pre-charter law cannot be upheld

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The Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled a mother who claims the federal and provincial governments and RCMP breached her murdered daughter's charter rights can proceed with her lawsuit.

Citing a long line of legal precedent holding that a person's charter rights end on death, the governments and police had sought to dismiss Rosemarie Suraka's lawsuit. But the court sided with Ms. Suraka, mother of the slain woman, Lisa Dudley, and rightly ruled she can move forward.

Dudley and her boyfriend were gunned down in their Mission, B.C., home in 2008. RCMP were called to the scene by a neighbour who heard gunshots. The attending officer, however, never got out of his car, reporting everything in the area looked normal. Dudley's boyfriend was killed instantly in the attack. But she was paralyzed and clung to life in the house for four days, until a neighbour stumbled on the scene. And though found alive, she died en route to the hospital.

Jack Woodruff pleaded guilty to two charges of first-degree murder last year, and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Two other accused in the drug-related slayings are in custody and awaiting trial.

The mother's lawsuit alleges the RCMP response was so grossly inadequate that it amounted to a violation of Dudley's right to life under Sec. 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court of Canada confirmed last year financial damages can be awarded for charter breaches.

Justice Heather Holmes determined the law is radically in need of updating when alleged charter violations prove fatal. She decided the federal and provincial governments and District of Mission (which employs the RCMP) can't hide behind a doctrine of law that extinguishes a person's rights on death, especially when they contributed to the very death they rely on to escape liability.

The judge's ruling was just and logical. Any other result smacks of letting wrongdoers benefit from their own misdeeds.

While the right to sue governments and their agencies for deaths they contributed to shouldn't be automatically foreclosed, nor should it be open-ended. A reasonable limitation period to initiate charter-based legal action should be imposed. The current two-year limit to sue for most civil wrongs would be appropriate.

In the meantime, the federal and provincial governments and RCMP should abandon any notion of appealing the decision. Any further attempt to deny Lisa Dudley's mother a constitutional remedy for the Crown's constitutional wrongs would be shameful.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Gerald Flood, Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 17, 2013 A10

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