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B.C. mother wins fight over slain daughter's charter rights

06/07/2013 09:11 EDT | Updated 08/07/2013 05:12 EDT
The Supreme Court of British Columbia says a grieving mother who blames the federal and provincial governments for violating the charter rights of her slain daughter can move forward on a lawsuit.

“My heart is still beating so hard in my chest — I'm still looking at these papers. I just can't believe it's for real sometimes,” Rosemarie Surakka, whose 37-year-old daughter Lisa Dudley was gunned down in her Mission, B.C., neighbourhood in 2008, told CBC.

“Today I'm telling you we're just going to rejoice and be grateful to those who are helping right a wrong done to Lisa."

The ruling by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes stems from a lawsuit filed by Surakka.

RCMP were called to the scene by a neighbour who heard the gunshots, but the officer never got out of his car, reporting later that everything looked normal in the area.

Dudley was paralyzed and clung to life for four days in the house until a neighbour stumbled on the scene. She died before reaching the hospital. Dudley’s boyfriend was killed instantly in the same attack.

Jack Woodruff, 53, pleaded guilty in the deaths last year and was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Two other suspects are in custody and awaiting trial.

The officer in question was later found guilty of disgraceful conduct and docked a day's pay.

Surakka alleges the provincial and federal governments — in their responsibility for the RCMP — failed to uphold her daughter’s rights under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

- Grieving mom fights Ottawa over lawsuit for slain daughter

The case drew attention when the federal government moved to have it thrown out, arguing no one, not even a grieving mother, can make a charter case on someone else’s behalf. The government also argued a person’s charter rights end upon death.

But in her ruling, Holmes suggested the law may need updating when a charter violation is fatal.

The ruling may yet be overturned but, for now, Surakka's lawyer says the case has cleared a major hurdle.

"To my knowledge that's the first time a claim of this sort has survived a motion to strike,” said Monique Pongracic-Speier.

Andrew Lokan, a Toronto lawyer and adjunct professor of constitutional law at Osgoode Hall law school, agrees the decision is significant. If allowed to stand, it changes the general rule that one must be alive to assert charter rights.

"For me it's very important that every constitutional wrong should have a constitutional remedy, and that's the logic that was accepted in this case,” said Lokan.

But Lokan expects Ottawa will appeal the decision, because as it stands, it will open the door to more charter claims on behalf of people who have died.

No one from the federal Justice Department could be reached for comment.

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