ALST and other participants withdraw from the Sinclair Inquest.

February 18, 2014 ¬– Citing the Court’s refusal to address issues of systemic racism in the health care system, Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto (ALST) will formally withdraw from the Inquest into the death of Brian Sinclair.

Another Aboriginal organization that has standing at the inquest, Ka Ni Kanichihk, will also withdraw. Brian Sinclair’s family and the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs are expected to announce that they will not attend or participate in Phase II of the inquest, which is starting today.

ALST chose to participate in the inquest because the circumstances of Brian Sinclair’s death raised concerns about systemic discrimination in the health care system. In a ruling during the inquest in 2009, Judge Raymond Wyant said questions about racism, poverty, and disability would play a significant role when the inquest considered how similar deaths could be prevented in the future. In public comments in February 2010, Manitoba Attorney General Andrew Swan said that the inquest would address broader issues raised by Aboriginal groups.

However, the current presiding judge, Judge Timothy Preston, made a ruling on January 10, 2014 that ALST believes significantly narrowed the scope of the next phase of the inquest. He decided that only one outside witness would address all questions related to the experiences of Aboriginal people in the health care system. ALST believes that one witness alone cannot meaningfully address this issue. Nine witnesses will focus on patient flow and the majority of the expected witnesses are employees of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

A number of witnesses have testified that staff at the Health Sciences Center made assumptions about Brian Sinclair – that he was intoxicated, that he was homeless, that he had nowhere else to go. Nurse witnesses have also testified that they did not see Mr. Sinclair, even though video footage showed many of them walking right by him and looking directly into the waiting room where he was seated in his wheelchair.

“The question to be addressed in Phase II of the inquest is what can be done to prevent future similar deaths?” said Emily Hill, senior staff lawyer at ALST, who has been attending the inquest.

“ALST is disappointed that Phase II of the inquest will focus primarily on patient flow, rather than the role discrimination may have played in Mr. Sinclair’s death. We believe that the legitimate concerns of many people in Winnipeg, in Manitoba, and across the country about Mr. Sinclair’s death will not be addressed”, she said.

“ALST did not make this decision lightly. ALST got involved in this case because we thought it was important to provide an Aboriginal perspective and to share expertise about the experiences of Aboriginal patients to address best practices for providing care to our community. Unfortunately the inquest is now focused on patient flow,” said Christa Big Canoe, Legal Advocacy Director of ALST. “Because the issues which brought ALST into this process are no longer central to the inquest, ALST can no longer justify expending its limited resources participating in the inquest.

Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto

Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto

803-415 Yonge Street Toronto ON M5B 2E7
Tel. 416-408-3967 or 4041 Email. alst@web.ca
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Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto

Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto was established February 21, 1990. ALST was formed following a needs assessment by the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto in the mid-1980s. The Centre had been operating legal-related programs for Aboriginal people in Toronto but concluded an agency dedicated to this issue was needed.

Mission Statement

To strengthen the capacity of the Aboriginal community and its citizens to deals with justice issues and provide Aboriginal controlled and culturally based justice alternatives.

Vision statement

We seek a community which deals with justice issues in an assertive, constructive and respectful way.

A community which provides support and guidance to its citizens when they need to interact with the justice system.

A community involved in developing and implementing justice initiatives and alternatives which are culturally based and community controlled.

A community where our youth have the opportunities and abilities to deal with justice issues affecting them.

A community where its citizens have minimum exposure to the existing legal system and are less vulnerable to acts of aggression, of racism and ignorance of who we are.

A community which resolves its conflicts internally with minimal need for outside involvement.

A community which promotes a positive environment related to justice issues - an environment based on mutual understandings with non-aboriginal groups/services such as schools, police, and other enforcement agencies.

A community where its agencies work together to ensure justice and related services and issues are provided in holistic and integrated way.

A community where its citizens have the confidence and self-esteem to deal with issues in a constructive way.

Principles/Beliefs

Aboriginal individuals require equitable treatment in the justice system, access to the legal and related resources within the justice system as well as understanding of the system and their options.

The support required includes advocacy in all areas of the law as well as alternatives which can break the cycles of recidivism and dependency which is all too prevalent. These alternatives are more effective when they are community controlled and are based on the traditional cultural norms and values of the Aboriginal community.

It is necessary to re-introduce community controlled and culturally based justice alternatives by ensuring community involvement in the process and by integrating justice related services with complementary programs within the Aboriginal community.

The Law Foundation of Ontario’s “Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship”
ALST is pleased to announce that Kimberly Murray, our Executive Director, has been awarded a Community Leadership in Justice Fellowship in conjunction with the Law Foundation of Ontario and Ryerson University. For more information on this fellowship please click here.


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Legal Aid Ontario
Miziwe Biik Aboriginal Employment and Training
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