POLITICS

No criminal charges in death of man who waited 33 hours in Winnipeg hospital ER

07/10/2012 11:59 EDT | Updated 09/09/2012 05:12 EDT
WINNIPEG - No one will be charged in the death of Brian Sinclair, a double-amputee who languished for 33 hours in a hospital emergency room with a treatable bladder infection.

Officials looked at whether charges of criminal negligence causing death, failing to provide the necessities of life and other offences might have applied in Sinclair's death, but in the end, Winnipeg police decided no charges will be laid.

"The Crown opinion indicates that charges are not warranted in this matter," police chief Keith McCaskill said Tuesday.

"The reason that this had to go to a Crown is because it's such a unique investigation," said Det. Sgt. John O'Donovan. "We had never done anything like this before and we had nothing in Canada that we could compare it to."

Sinclair was 45 and in a wheelchair when he went to the emergency department at Winnipeg's Health Sciences Centre in September 2008. Hospital security tape showed Sinclair went to the triage desk and spoke to an aide before wheeling himself into the waiting room. That appears to have been his only interaction with staff.

Some 33 hours later, another person in the waiting room approached a security guard to say Sinclair appeared to be dead. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Manitoba's chief medical examiner said Sinclair's death could have been prevented if his blocked catheter had been changed and his infection treated.

Sinclair's family has been fighting for answers as to why Sinclair seemingly went unnoticed for more than a day as he sat in the waiting room. They want somebody held accountable, their lawyer said.

"They want the truth about why Brian Sinclair suffered and died the way he did. They want accountability for the people who ignored him to death and they want to make sure that changes are made to prevent this from ever happening again," Vilko Zbogar said.

"They haven't seen any evidence that that has happened yet."

Police interviewed more than 170 witnesses over 10 months and passed their findings on to the Crown attorney's office in Manitoba without any recommendations as to whether charges should be laid, O'Donovan said.

The Manitoba government passed on the file to the Crown attorney's office in Saskatchewan for an outside review, which was completed and given to police on Monday.

While the police investigation is over, its findings are expected to be released in a provincial inquest that has already been announced, although no date has been set. The inquest, which is to examine the Sinclair case as well as emergency room procedures generally, was put on hold pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.

Sinclair's family has also filed a lawsuit, although much of it has been dismissed or settled already.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority has paid out $110,000 in damages to the Sinclair family for loss of care, guidance and companionship.

The family's lawyers had also argued the health authority and the province violated Sinclair's charter rights and allowed the ER to operate even though it constituted a public nuisance to vulnerable, aboriginal patients. But a Court of Queen's Bench justice ruled in March that there was no evidence to back up those claims and dismissed them.

The court, however, did rule that the family could sue the defendants for out-of pocket costs for participating in the upcoming inquest.

The health authority said Tuesday it has taken steps to improve emergency room care.

"Mr. Sinclair’s death in September 2008 was a tragedy that could have been prevented. For that, we have apologized to his family," the authority said in a written statement.

"While mistakes were made and opportunities missed, no one intended to harm Mr. Sinclair. A number of changes were immediately implemented to improve safety and procedures in emergency department waiting rooms ... in Winnipeg.

"We are now looking forward to the start of the inquest and to receiving its recommendations."