The head of the Winnipeg Police Service says that the force had never received any suggestion that there was evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the case of Brian Sinclair's death, and therefore didn't investigate it.
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Keith McCaskill responded on Wednesday to a top Ontario lawyer's claims that it's "inexplicable" that local investigators did not probe the death of Sinclair as a potential case of criminal negligence.
Sinclair, a 45-year-old double amputee with a speech problem, was found dead in his wheelchair after spending 34 hours in the emergency department waiting room of the Winnipeg Health Science Centre in September 2008.
While an inquest into Sinclair's death is scheduled for later this year, noted criminal defence lawyer Clayton Ruby spoke out from Toronto on Wednesday, saying police in any other jurisdiction in Canada would have immediately launched an investigation.
Ruby said he recently sent a letter to the Winnipeg Police Service, saying if the department won't act immediately, the provincial justice minister should step in.
"Winnipeg police are not inept, they're a modern police force in a major city," Ruby told reporters. "This is just inexplicable. Fifty years ago, you could say, 'oh, it's just an Indian, who cares, or, he was just a cripple, doesn't matter,' but we don't do that," Ruby said.
Police pledge review
But McCaskill said at the time Sinclair died, the provincial Chief Medical Examiner did not request an investigation to be done by his officers.
He said he spoke to Dr. Thambirajah Balachandra prior to speaking with reporters on Wednesday. The ME reiterated that police were not required at the time, McCaskill said.
"He believes that nothing has changed that would require police involvement," McCaskill said in a statement.
However, McCaskill said police would now contact the Sinclair family's lawyer to request a copy of the material that they sent to Ruby for him to form his opinion.
"The WPS will then have investigators review the material … to determine if there is evidence which supports an investigation into whether a criminal offence occurred," McCaskill said.
Backed by rights experts
Ruby said he believes two Criminal Code charges could possibly apply to the circumstances surrounding Sinclair's death: failing to provide the necessities of life or the homicide-related charge of criminal negligence causing death.
Ruby said he's amassed legal opinions backing his claims and said international human rights and other legal experts have endorsed his view.
He said while the Health Sciences Centre or the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority obviously couldn't face jail time if convicted, the courts could levy heavy fines against the agencies if found guilty of wrongdoing.
The judicial inquest into Sinclair's death will not allow Judge Tim Preston to find any involved party liable for the incident. He can only make recommendations to try and ensure a similar scenario doesn't happen again in the future.
It's not the first time Ruby has spoken out in a high-profile case of late.
In October, he was retained by Zoocheck and the advocacy group PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — over the treatment of Lucy, an elephant at the Edmonton Zoo.
The groups are claiming that in Edmonton, Lucy lacks the basic necessities and social interactions the elephant needs. They argue the city's cold climate and the fact that Lucy has been the only elephant in the zoo since September 2007 are detrimental to the animal's health.
In February, a lawsuit against the City of Edmonton was formally filed by Ruby.