Credits: Maurice Bruneau/Winnipeg Sun
WINNIPEG - Hospital workers won't face criminal charges for the death of Brian Sinclair, a homeless man found dead while awaiting care in the ER of a Winnipeg hospital in 2008.
Sinclair, a 45-year-old double amputee, died after waiting 34 hours for treatment at the Health Sciences Centre.
Following a lengthy public outcry - plus finger-pointing at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and at
Manitoba's NDP government in the months following Sinclair's death - the province asked city police last year to investigate to determine whether laws were broken in the tragedy.
Police began an investigation into the death in October 2010. Investigators spent 10 months interviewing more than 170 people, including patients, visitors and staff members.
Manitoba prosecutors then sent the file to a senior
Saskatchewan Crown attorney for review, to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
On Tuesday, Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill declared that hospital staff won't face any charges. The Crown attorney has determined that no charges are warranted.
"The reason this had to go to a Crown is because it's such a unique investigation," said Det-.Sgt. John O'Donovan, one of two lead investigators on the case.
The investigation covered the Criminal Code and several provincial acts that are rarely, if ever, dealt with by police.
"This is such a unique case. We had nothing to base our history on, there is no case law. We had to leave this to an experienced lawyer to make a decision," said O'Donovan, a veteran Winnipeg officer who has served in the homicide unit and currently heads up the warrant squad.
Winnipeg's top cop said it's possibly the first case of its kind in Canada.
"It is somewhat unique when you're investigating hospital staff," said McCaskill.
Sinclair's family filed a civil suit against the provincial government, WRHA officials, and several front-line health care workers in 2010, alleging their behaviour toward Sinclair was "negligent" and "reckless."
The family is seeking more than $1 million in damages.
Sinclair's family amended the claim last year to also accuse the government of creating a "public nuisance" by allowing the ER to operate "in a manner that constituted a hazard to public health."
As the hearing got underway, the WRHA issued a press release stating it paid $110,000 in compensation to Sinclair's family.
SINCLAIR CASE BY THE NUMBERS
34 - The number of hours Sinclair waited to receive care in the ER at Health Sciences Centre. Medical staff became aware of Sinclair's passing when others in the waiting room alerted them to it.
1,387 - The number of days since Sinclair died. Former premier Gary Doer vowed shortly thereafter an inquest would be held as soon as possible to investigate the circumstances of Sinclair's death. The province dragged its heels, however, and the process stalled while criminal charges were being considered.
1 - Opinion requested by Winnipeg police, to the Manitoba government's prosecutions branch on whether criminal charges should be laid in the tragedy. That request, made last October, was forwarded to Saskatchewan's prosecutions branch to remove any perception of a conflict of interest.
$1 million - Sinclair's family is seeking more than $1 million in damages and declarations that Sinclair's Charter rights were breached.
$110,000 - The money given to the Sinclair family from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority last year as part of a settlement dealing directly with the family's claim for loss of care, guidance and companionship for his wrongful death.
A timeline of Brian Sinclair's death and the ensuing scandal:
3 p.m., Sept. 19: Sinclair arrives at HSC via taxi from Health Action Centre after complaining of abdominal pains and problems urinating. He is wheeled to the triage desk, where he speaks with someone, then heads towards the waiting area.
1 a.m., Sept. 21: 34 later, after speaking with at least two other staffers, he's discovered dead in ER.
Sept. 22: Hours after Health Minister Theresa Oswald touts the province's record on health care at a press conference, news breaks of Sinclair's death.
Sept. 24: The chief medical examiner announces Sinclair died of a bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter. Calling it a "preventable death," he says an inquest will take place. WRHA orders all primary care clinics to notify ER departments when sending patients their way.
Sept. 25: Opposition Tories and Liberals call for an external review. Premier Gary Doer declines.
Nov. 19: WRHA's administrative and critical incident review reveals no one will be disciplined. "No single person is to blame, it's more of a systemic issue," says WRHA veep Jan Currie. The hospital adopts five recommendations from the review, including a system to electronically register ER arrivals before they enter the waiting room.
Feb. 4, 2008: Chief ME formally calls for inquest and reveals there's video footage Sinclair interacted with someone at triage desk. WRHA officials say he didn't present himself to desk.