Hamilton

Former Hamilton coroner slams ministry, says it wants inquests that 'don't rock the boat'

The former regional coroner for the Hamilton area says taxpayers are footing the bill for his firing without cause — alleging he was “paid to go away” for criticizing government agencies during death inquests.

Dr. Jack Stanborough says inquest process is wrought with problems

Former regional coroner Dr. Jack Stanborough says he was essentially fired for holding government agencies to account for their mistakes. (istockphoto.com)

The former regional coroner for the Hamilton area says taxpayers are footing the bill for his firing without cause — alleging he was "paid to go away" for criticizing government agencies during death inquests.

Dr. Jack Stanborough says his 2016 firing points to a systemic problem, where the coroner's office is told "not to rock the boat," and at all costs, not make the provincial government that oversees it look bad.

"They love inquests that just go through the motions, that are totally superficial — oral flatulence," Stanborough said.

"The whole mandate of the coroner's office is to not embarrass the government."

In May of 2016, I was terminated without cause, with a nice package, and told not to rock the boat anymore.- Dr. Jack Stanborough

Stanborough made the comments in the wake of the date being set for a long-awaited major inquest probing the drug- related deaths of a number inmates in Hamilton's provincial jail.

That inquest will happen in January, 2018.

But it was first announced in 2015. Before he was fired, Stanborough was originally going to preside over that inquest. Since then, two more inmates have died.

"To say the organization is corrupt is an understatement," Stanborough told CBC News.

"Taxpayers have paid a fairly nice sum of money to make me go away."

Stanborough would not disclose how much money he was paid to leave, saying that confidentiality was part of his payout agreement.

The coroner's office rejects his allegations, and pointed to the results of multiple inquests in recent years as evidence of discernable change brought on by its recommendations.

But Stanborough says the culture he has seen doesn't fit that narrative.

"It's appalling."

A 'home run' inquest

Inquests are called by a coroner after a death to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future. A jury can recommend procedures for governing bodies to adhere to, though they're under no obligation to do so.

The Office of the Chief Coroner falls under the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, which is one of the very ministries that can end up being criticized during an inquest.

Stanborough, who started working with the coroner's office in 2002, says the issue came to a head after the Guy Mitchell inquest — the case of a developmentally delayed Hamilton man who died at a local group home.

After the Mitchell inquest in 2015, which Stanbrorough presided over, all of the recommendations made by the jury were implemented by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Stanborough was fired in May of 2016. (LinkedIn)

They included things like a phone line allowing the public to report abuse of people with developmental disabilities, and the creation of local protocols on recognizing cases of neglect.

"We did an absolute home run," Stanborough said. "Then three weeks later I was pulled into the chief coroner's office and told I'd never do an inquest again in Ontario."

"In May of 2016, I was terminated without cause, with a nice package, and told not to rock the boat anymore."

'They love inquests that just go through the motions'

Stanborough says he's never been given an official reason as to why he was fired, but believes it's because he was too critical of government agencies during various inquests.

Ontario's chief coroner, Dr. Dirk Huyer, told CBC News that he could not talk about Stanborough's departure due to "privacy concerns."

In an email, Huyer told CBC News that the chief coroner has full discretion to call inquests whenever there is a public interest.

Eight inmate deaths that have occurred at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre since 2012 will be examined in an inquest in early 2018. (Jeff Green/CBC)

"I can also tell you that our office has conducted a number of challenging inquests that have explored areas not previously examined in an open forum, in an effort to enhance public safety in not only Ontario but, across the country," Huyer said.

As an example, Huyer pointed to the Ronald Fagan and Jacy Pierre inquest in Thunder Bay from January 2016, which he says has led to full body scanners being rolled out in provincial jails to deal with drug issues.

He also mentioned the Roawn Stringer inquest, which was a case where an Ottawa teen died after sustaining three concussions in less than a week playing rugby.

That inquest led to Canada's first concussion legislation and national concussion awareness campaign, Huyer says.

"I wish to reiterate that in my experience, I have never known any ministry of government to interfere with the inquest process," he said. "In fact, it is the opposite. Government ministries are willing participants as the Ontario Public Service is very fortunate to have many committed employees who are dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Ontarians, wherever possible."

Massive Hamilton inquest into jail deaths finally scheduled

The date for the sweeping inquest into multiple overdose deaths at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre was annnounced in August. It will happen three years after it was first planned. 

"My inquest was totally ready to go," Stanborough said. "The fact that the coroner's office dragged its ass for two more years and two more people died is disgusting."

Lawyer Kevin Egan, who is representing one of the victim's families in the upcoming inquest, told CBC News in a previous interview that there is a "perception of bias" in the current inquest structure, as the agency being examined is also the arm that oversees the office that is conducting the investigation.

"There's an appearance of bias that needs to be addressed," he said, adding that some sort of "arm's length agency" performing an inquest would be better suited.

"That makes more sense than the fox looking after the henhouse."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Carter

Reporter

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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