Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Stop evasion

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ROBERT Maier was wrongly accused of manslaughter and he has a right to know how that happened, given that it involves a pathologist who examined the dead man's body, the police who charged him and a Crown attorney who authorized the charge. The manslaughter charge was dropped last week. Mr. Maier was instead convicted of assault causing bodily harm.

When police charged Mr. Maier on March 1 for the death of Ronald McKinnon, they said an autopsy showed he died of facial injuries from an assault. But on March 5, a pathologist's preliminary report said the cause of death could not be known until a toxicology test, run by the RCMP lab, was done. The preliminary report was sent to the Crown's office upon request in April.

It took eight months for the lab results to come back; chief medical examiner Thambirajah Balachandra says delays are a chronic problem with the RCMP. The critical issue is why police, and the Crown attorney who sanctioned the charges, didn't ask for the pathologist's preliminary report in March when the manslaughter charge could have been revisited early in the case.

Mr. Maier sat in remand for eight months. On Sept. 30, a final report said Mr. McKinnon died from a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol he had consumed -- not as a result of blood loss from the facial laceration that police cited.

Police are refusing to explain, insisting the charge was laid on the information they had at the time. In fact, they say this case shows the system works. Justice Minister Andrew Swan cannot allow self-serving evasion to pass for accountability. Where homicide charges hang in the balance, cause of death must be confirmed first. Mr. Swan must ask for a full account from the WPS, and it should be released publicly.

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 October 17, 2013 A14

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