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This article was published 15/10/2010 (3230 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG — Police said they'll be launching a criminal probe into the death of Brian Sinclair, a homeless man who waited for 34 hours in a hospital's emergency room in September 2008.
Police made the announcement today, nearly six months after Toronto-based Clayton Ruby, a lawyer for the family, called on officers to investigate. They said they willl now be assembling a team of investigators to look into the death as a potentially criminal matter.
The 45-year-old man's death made national headlines and raised concerns about the quality of ER care and the treatment of aboriginal people in the health-care system.
Sinclair's family has filed a civil lawsuit against the regional health authority, the Manitoba government and medical staff who were working when he died.
Family spokesman Robert Sinclair, Brian's cousin, said today he found out from the media police were launching an criminal investigation.
"I'm glad they finally made a decision," he said. "Everything's been at a standstill."
Lawyer Vilko Zbogar said a police probe will likely delay the start of a provincial inquest into Sinclair's death at the HSC.
A sentiment shared by Health Minister Theresa Oswald who also said that the criminal investigation could delay the start of a provincial inquest into Sinclair's death.
"It could delay it. I hope that's not true. But I have heard that that might be the case," she told reporters at the Legislative Building today.
Oswald said she hopes the police probe won't substantially delay matters because she welcomes the inquest and its potential for leading to improved patient care.
Asked for her reaction to hospital workers being the target of a police probe, the health minister said: "If this investigation that the Winnipeg Police Service believes it needs to pursue is going to provide us with more information, I welcome that, to be frank, I've never said otherwise."
In March the Winnipeg Police Service said they would do a review into the matter after Ruby spoke out on the family's behalf. Police said the decision to launch the investigation came after getting documents and materials related to Sinclair's death.
"We have determined that an investigation into this incident is warranted," said Const. Natalie Aitken, Winnipeg Police Service spokeswoman. "That being said, that should not be any reason to construe that any manner of wrong-doing has been determined as of this time."
A statement from police earlier this year said they'd never received "any suggestion" there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing concerning Sinclair's death. Police said investigators from the medical examiner's office had not asked them to look into the incident, and the only contact police had with medical examiner investigators was to do with alerting Sinclair's relatives to his death.
Police did not say which specific charges they were looking at laying, if any.
"It's really too early for us to speculate," said Aitken.
A prepared statement released by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority today said officials were co-operating with police.
"The Health Region has informed the police that it will continue to cooperate with them, disclosing information — documents and any other materials — as requested in a timely manner. The Region has acknowledged that mistakes were made and that Mr. Sinclair's death was a tragedy that could have been prevented. For that we sincerely apologized to the family," said the statement.
The prepared statement also said two reviews done of Sinlair's death showed "while mistakes were made and opportunities missed, no one person was individually responsible. We believe the police investigation will reach the same conclusion."
The WRHA said they would not comment further on the incident as it would be "inappropriate" while it was under investigation.
Sinclair and Zbogar said the delay in calling a police investigation shows why a full public inquiry into Sinclair's death is needed.
"The inquest has always mattered," Zbogar said. "What the family says what's really needed is a public inquiry."
Zbogar added he's confident city police can conduct a criminal probe without calling in an outside police agency like the RCMP.
Updated on Friday, October 15, 2010 at 11:30 AM CDT: Adds details, background
12:46 PM: Adds comments from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Health Minister Theresa Oswald.