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Aboriginal council enlisted to help family find answers

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The family of a homeless man buried in an unmarked grave has enlisted the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg to find out why it took authorities four months to inform them of the death.

Patrick Hall voiced questions at a news conference at Thunderbird House on why authorities made little effort to find the family of Wilson Hall, who lies in an unmarked grave at Brookside Cemetery.

"They didn't follow through with all the avenues to find his relatives," Hall said. "There are ways and they didn't follow through and they didn't contact anyone. How many other people has this happened to: Where they bypassed the family?"

Damon Johnston, president of the Aboriginal Council of Winnipeg, said the council will conduct its own investigation, contacting police, the Chief Medical Examiner's Office and hospital authorities to answer questions about the process used to identify the deceased and the efforts to find family.

"We are making it clear up front that we want to work within the system to find out all the facts and we will be working with the authorities," Johnson said.

If it turns out systemic faults factored into the four-month delay, then the Aboriginal Council will call for changes in the system. "We want to make sure this never happens again," Johnston said.

Chickadee Richard, a clan mother with the Native's Women's Coalition on Missing and Murdered Women who also attended the press conference, said the Halls' experience raises troubling questions. "There are obviously flaws here in the system," Richard said.

Some 75 bodies were turned over to the CME's office in 2012, when they originally went unclaimed. About half were later claimed by next of kin. The Anatomy Act doesn't expressly spell out which agency has responsibility to make such efforts.

Wilson Hall, 63, 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 Chief Medical Examiner's Office, which held it for 28 days before burial at Brookside.

Patrick Hall said Monday beyond family suspicions little effort was made to track down relatives, there's a broader concern, too.

Basic information, like his brother's identity, was the subject of mixed messages from different authorities and Hall said he wonders whether there is a standard process at all.

The family also wants to exhume the body from Brookside.

Relatives want a traditional burial at the Old Sioux Village cemetery near Portage la Prairie.

The CME's office investigated to find out why family was not notified until relatives filed a formal missing person's report with police this month and a match was finally made.

The family says health records, social assistance and justice records could have been used to find them.

Patrick Hall told reporters CME officials apologized last week at a face-to-face meeting. They also disclosed hospital and police authorities found a prescription pill bottle with his brother's name and doctor's name when he died. It was in his brother's jacket pocket.

Inexplicably, it didn't lead anywhere.

Hospital authorities didn't contact the doctor, according to the account Hall said the CME's office gave him.

"When I asked, 'Why?' (one official) he said, 'That's a good question.' "

"They tried to blame him, for his lifestyle. But what steps were taken to locate the family? My family is in shock right now."

Hall said he asked for a copy of the CME investigation but he was told he'd have to file an access to information request for it.

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.

As recently as 2002, it might have been a different story, Hall said.

He told reporters a similar situation occurred when another brother died and next of kin had to be notified. In that case, police asked media to circulate that brother's photograph. It worked. Family came forward to claim the body. That didn't seem to be an option this time and the family wonders why, Hall said.

The CME investigation did turn up evidence two agencies made efforts to contact the family, and the CME's office was told no family was on record at income assistance.

Hall said that's another discrepancy, since his brother's next of kin could also have been tracked down through the justice system. Wilson Hall had a criminal record.

At the same time, Hall also clarified the homeless hero Faron Hall is Wilson Hall's nephew, not his brother, as was reported earlier.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 20, 2013 B2

History

Updated on Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 3:43 PM CDT: Clarifies that some 75 bodies were turned over to the CME's office in 2012, when they originally went unclaimed. About half were later claimed by next of kin.

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