NEWS
07/14/2017 15:43 EDT | Updated 07/14/2017 17:02 EDT

Family of man shot dead by Durham police will now take part in inquest, thanks to new funding

Four long years after her brother was shot and killed by a Durham police officer, Joanne MacIsaac hopes her family will finally feel a sense of justice.

A coroner's inquest into Michael MacIsaac's death begins Monday. She will be the first to take the stand — something that almost didn't happen.

Her family was denied legal aid twice. They started a GoFundMe campaign to try and cover some of the legal costs, but only managed to raise a few thousand dollars.

"I have been waiting to have an opportunity and forum to speak since my brother's death," said MacIsaac. "We were considering not attending or participating at all," she said, until the family received a phone call Thursday night.

The Ontario government says it will now offer funding to help families like the MacIsaacs, whose loved ones died in a "police-involved event" by establishing the Coroner's Inquest Family Reimbursement Program. 

In a statement,  Marie-France Lalonde, minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said it was "the right thing to do."

The funding was one of 129 recommendations made earlier this year by Justice Michael Tulloch, in a sweeping report on police oversight.

"Families have a special interest in obtaining a complete understanding of the circumstances of the death, Tulloch wrote.

"Without legal assistance or representation, they may not ask the right questions, know what arguments to make when issues arise, or understand how the inquest procedures work."

The province does have a reimbursement program but to qualify, the deceased must be a victim of crime. The officer who shot MacIsaac — 12 seconds after leaving his cruiser — was cleared of any wrongdoing in two investigations by the province's police watchdog, The Special lnvestigations Unit (SIU), and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director.

Joanne MacIsaac says the new funding means her family can "fully participate" and not just watch the proceedings on the sidelines.

"No longer will it only be the people who, in my opinion, really don't want change," said MacIsaac. "Now we'll all have a voice."

A chance, Joanne says, for her family to reveal all that they've uncovered about MacIsaac's death.

So many unanswered questions

On Dec. 2, 2013, MacIsaac, 47, called in sick to work at his construction job. Hours later he would be shot dead by police after bolting from his home naked.  His family believes he had suffered a type of epileptic seizure.

Durham Regional Police received a 911 call from MacIsaac's sister-in-law at 10:07 a.m. that morning, reporting a struggle at the family home as MacIsaac ran out the door.

His wife, Marianne, would tell Durham detectives later that day she was panicking because of his odd behaviour.

The SIU has reported MacIsaac confronted "three separate motorists" before he had an interaction with police, saying he banged on the windows of several cars, and in one case approached a female driver with a rock and then subsequently picked up a patio table and hit it against the front door of her home.

When officers caught up with MacIsaac, the SIU said he was holding two legs that had broken off a patio table that he had struck against that door.

According to the SIU, MacIsaac approached an officer while "holding one of the metal legs in a threatening fashion."

The officer ordered MacIsaac to drop the metre-long "weapon," but he did not comply and the officer fired two shots.

Later, MacIsaac's family learned that a mental-health officer was one of the three at the scene. That officer had just stepped out of his cruiser when the other officer fired.

SIU's version of events 'not accurate' 

MacIsaac's family believes there have been numerous inconsistencies and flaws in the handling of his death. They hired a private investigator and uncovered another 911 call from the time of the shooting, which they believe conflicts with the officers' statements about that day.

"I can tell you the SIU's version of events is not accurate. I will openly, publicly say that," said Joanne MacIsaac. "I would love for them to come after me, because we can prove everything they said is not accurate."

The hearing is expected to run three weeks and will hear from 18 witnesses, looking at the events surrounding MacIsaac's death.

A recent inquest into the death of Toronto`s Andrew Loku, who was shot by police in 2015 after he refused to drop a hammer, made 39 recommendations. Among them, additional training for 911 operators to elicit more information during a call that can help in de-escalating a confrontation.