After years of efforts by Samuel Brown's family, Ontario calls inquest into student's death

The Brampton family of Samuel Brown hopes to get closer to the truth now that the province has announced an inquest into the sudden death of the W. Ross Macdonald student, who had been attending an Ontario school for the blind in Brantford.

Brown, 18, who was deaf, blind and non-verbal, died overnight after school staff noticed issues

Saron Gebresellassi, right, with Andrea and Gladstone Brown, says the family wants an in-person inquest into the death of 18-year-old Samuel Brown. Ontario has scheduled a virtual one, but 'we don't see eye to eye on this,' the family's lawyer says. (Michael YC Tseng)

The family of Samuel Brown hopes to get closer to the truth now that the Ontario government has announced an inquest into the W. Ross Macdonald student's sudden death.

Saron Gebresellassi, a lawyer representing Brown's family, said the inquest next month will be overwhelming.

For years, the family had been calling for an inquest. The province said Wednesday it will "examine the circumstances surrounding Mr. Brown's death," and a jury may recommend how to prevent similar deaths.

"It's going to be tough," Gebresellassi said. "There's no question about it. It's going to come with a lot of internal turmoil for members of the community and it's not going to be an easy process."

Brown, 18, was a deaf, blind and non-verbal student at the provincially run Brantford school for the blind in 2018.

Andrea Brown in 2019 when she first called for an inquest into her son Samuel's death. (Dan Taekema/CBC News)

The Brampton family said he was fine on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, when they put him on a bus back to the school. But between Monday and Wednesday, school staff noticed he became more tired and didn't feel well, says a document from Dr. June Rogers, executive director of the provincial and demonstration schools branch.

On Thursday evening, staff called Samuel's parents to let them know he wasn't feeling well and continued to check on him. He died sometime overnight on Feb. 9.

Preliminary coroner's reports and autopsy results offer conflicting causes of death. One said it was pneumonia, while the coroner said it was natural causes.

'We refuse a virtual process'

Dr. Karen Schiff, regional supervising coroner for west region's Hamilton office, announced the inquest Wednesday. It's expected to last five days and involve about 13 witnesses. 

The province says the inquest will happen via video conference, but Gebresellassi is fighting for it to be in person.

She said she's even booked a conference room at a hotel and invited the province to hold it there.

Members of the family and the W. Ross Macdonald community need to be able to attend together, she said.

"We refuse a virtual process," she said. "We don't believe that's what the community deserves."

Dr. David Cameron will preside as inquest officer and Ed Slater will be the inquest counsel.