ER death probe launched by Winnipeg police

Winnipeg police are launching a criminal investigation into the death of Brian Sinclair, who was found in an emergency waiting room in 2008.

Inquest faces lengthy delay if charges laid: chief medical officer

Winnipeg police are launching a criminal investigation into the death of Brian Sinclair, who was found dead in an emergency waiting room in 2008.

"Mr. Sinclair’s family is in the process of being contacted to inform them of these developments," police said in a news release Friday morning.

Police service spokeswoman, Const. Natalie Aitken, said officers received documents and did a thorough review during the past several months and came to the decision that an investigation is warranted.

They'll now determine if any criminal charges should be laid. Aitken added that no one should assume that charges will be laid.

"A team of investigators is going to be selected to work on this matter and that's still in the process," she said.

Sinclair, a 45-year-old double amputee with a speech problem, was found dead in his wheelchair after waiting 34 hours for care at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre.

Sinclair's death could have been prevented if a blood infection had been treated, Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, Manitoba's chief medical examiner, said within days of the death.

Balachandra announced in February 2009 that there would be an inquest. A date for that has not yet been set.

The death made national headlines and raised concerns about the quality of ER service, as well as about the treatment of aboriginal people in the health-care system.

Lawsuit filed

Sinclair's family has filed a lawsuit against several medical staff, the regional health authority and the Manitoba government for $1.6 million.

The statement of claim, filed Sept. 15 in the Court of Queen's Bench, lists 18 defendants, including the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and its director of clinical care, Brock Wright.

The WRHA issued a statement Friday saying that it has informed the police that it will co-operate with them, "disclosing information — documents and any other materials — as requested in a timely manner.

"The [WRHA] has acknowledged that mistakes were made and that Mr. Sinclair’s death was a tragedy that could have been prevented. For that we sincerely apologized to the family," stated the release from spokeswoman Heidi Graham.

"Two reviews undertaken shortly [after Sinclair's death] concluded that while mistakes were made and opportunities missed, no one person was individually responsible. We believe the police investigation will reach the same conclusion.

"As the matter is now the subject of a police investigation as well as before the courts, the WRHA will not be commenting further as it would be inappropriate to do so."

Lawyer questions why decision took so long

Toronto lawyer Clayton Ruby represents the Sinclair family. He was travelling in Europe on Friday, but in an email response to The Canadian Press he said he was pleased about the investigation, although suspicious of the reason it took so long.

"I speculate that someone important tried to stop the investigation or it would not have taken this long," he wrote.

"Legally, it's a simple question, and not very debatable."

Aitken said police only became involved and started their review March 31, after they received correspondence from the family's lawyer and the chief medical examiner.

The chief medical examiner originally said there was no need for police involvement, she said.

"They were responsible for that investigation."

Balachandra told CBC News Friday that the police investigation will delay the scheduling of the inquest. If charges are laid, then no inquest will be held until the legal proceedings are over.

If no charges are laid, then a date for the inquest will be scheduled.

With files from The Canadian Press