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Fight for legal costs saddens Sinclairs

Family of man who died in ER wants more cash

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Being forced to fight the government to boost funding for legal representation at an inquest into the death of a family member is crushing the Sinclair family.

"Why has the government been putting the Sinclair family through this agony?" Vilko Zbogar, the Sinclairs' Toronto-based lawyer said on Tuesday after a judge reserved decision on the family's plea for more money.

"This isn't a game.... This is about life and death. The effect of the government's funding offer is to economically exclude them."

The inquest, scheduled for January, will examine the circumstances surrounding the death of Brian Sinclair, 45, at the Health Sciences Centre on Sept. 21, 2008.

Sinclair, a double amputee, died while sitting in a wheelchair in the emergency department after waiting 34 hours for treatment for a bladder infection.

On Tuesday, provincial court Judge Ray Wyant said he needs time to decide if the Manitoba government has offered enough money to the Sinclair family for legal representation.

Wyant said he hopes to release his decision soon so the inquest won't need to be delayed.

Robert Sinclair, Brian's cousin, said after court that the judge has already told the family its input is essential at the inquest.

The province has offered a legal aid rate of $80 per hour, to a maximum of $40,000 for the scheduled 53 days of the inquest.

It has also said if the inquest goes longer, it will pay the family's lawyer $800 per day.

But Sinclair said lawyers for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority will get paid about $210 per hour.

"The hospital that is responsible for Brian Sinclair's death is getting first-class treatment," he said.

Zbogar said the family questions why the province isn't offering the same legal rate paid to families during other inquests. "We cannot accept the same kind of discrimination and inferior treatment that led to Brian Sinclair's death."

When asked if the family will boycott the inquest if the province doesn't ante up more money for legal costs, Zbogar said: "The Sinclair family will cross that bridge when they get to it."

Last June, Wyant granted the family the right to have its own lawyer at the inquest.

At that time, the government said it would meet with the family and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to look at increasing its offer of up to $40,000.

Provincial lawyer Glenn McFetridge said the government has added $800 for every day the inquest goes longer than the scheduled 53 days.

"This is not an attempt to marginalize this family," McFetridge told the judge. "There is not a bottomless pit... We do not provide funding (for families in inquests) unless under exceptional circumstances."

When Wyant asked why the province doesn't have a policy on funding families involved in inquests -- something former associate chief provincial court judge Murray Sinclair urged it to do while heading the pediatric cardiac surgery inquest a decade ago -- McFetridge said: "Manitoba looks at each case on an individual basis."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2009 A6

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