Legal experts weigh in on Winnipeg woman's 2004 death
Legal experts in Manitoba are reacting to a CBC News report about the 2004 death of Jessie Garwood and her son's quest to prove it was not an accident.
Jim Garwood told CBC News in the report, which aired Tuesday, that he has solid evidence showing his mother's death was a homicide and not the accidental fall police say it was.
Garwood has spent years investigating his mother's death, consulting with private forensic experts and obtaining numerous related documents.
One of those documents is an August 2011 letter from Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra, the province's chief medical examiner, that urged Winnipeg police to reopen its investigation into Jessie Garwood's case.
Balachandra's office also reclassified the manner of Jessie Garwood's death from "accidental" to "undetermined," but so far police have refused to reopen the case.
Questions remain unanswered
Bruce MacFarlane, a law professor at the University of Manitoba, said a medical examiner's opinion generally carries a lot of weight in the legal system.
"I was a little surprised that the Winnipeg Police Service didn't appear to give it the weight that it deserved," MacFarlane, a former deputy justice minister in Manitoba, told CBC News on Wednesday.
At the same time, MacFarlane said many questions remain unanswered about the Garwood case.
"We have to be careful that we are assessing the full picture before any decisions are made," he said.
"We're far from seeing that full picture and far from any notion of anybody being charged for anything."
David Asper, another law professor at the University of Manitoba, said fact-finding may be the hardest thing to do in a police investigation.
"That conclusion that was reached at the scene, the day they found Mrs. Garwood's body, affected everything else that was to come — or not to come — because they didn't treat it as a crime scene," he said.
"Now we're maybe stuck with it."
Filing wrongful-death lawsuit
Jim Garwood has begun the process of filing a wrongful-death lawsuit with Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench.
In documents supporting his lawsuit, Garwood has pointed to Cathy Watson, Jessie Garwood's step-granddaughter, as being involved in the woman's death.
Jim Garwood raised a number of suspicions about Watson, including a conversation between her and an emergency operator on the day before his mom died.
Jessie Garwood wore a Victoria Lifeline alarm that she would press if she was in distress. The alarm went off that evening and an operator called her home.
But according to a transcript of that conversation, Watson answered the call and assured the operator that Jessie Garwood was fine.
Jim Garwood's allegations have not been proven in court.
Graeme Young, Watson's lawyer, told CBC News his client was not involved in the death of Jessie Garwood.
"My client has absolutely no compunction in saying that she was probably the last person to see Mrs. Garwood alive, but she had absolutely nothing to do with her death," he said.
"It's an unfortunate tragic accident."