Coroner investigating death at Lakeshore General Hospital steps aside after conflict-of-interest allegation

Before she worked as a coroner, Karine Spénard was head of legal affairs for the West Island health agency, which oversees the Lakeshore. Candida Macarine's was worried that put Spenard in a conflict of interest.

Candida Macarine's family believed coroner Karine Spénard couldn't be objective

head and shoulders photo of elderly Philippino woman.
Candida Macarine's family was concerned the coroner investigating her death, Karine Spénard, was in a conflict of interest. Spénard recused herself from the investigation late Monday. (Submitted by Placido Macarine)

Karine Spénard, the coroner investigating the death of Candida Macarine at the Lakeshore General Hospital in Montreal's West Island in February, has stepped aside after Macarine's family suggested she was in a conflict of interest.

Macarine was found dead on the floor of a negative pressure isolation room in the emergency room at the hospital Feb. 27, a few hours after being admitted. Nurses had repeatedly warned managers it was difficult to monitor patients in the room because of visibility problems.

The hospital did not tell Macarine's family about the circumstances of her death, which they only learned of two weeks later after seeing a CBC story.

The family was hoping the coroner's investigation would finally bring some answers, but at a news conference Monday morning they said they were worried about Spénard's ability to look at the case impartially.

Spénard's profile on LinkedIn shows that directly before she joined the coroner's office in 2017, she was the head of legal affairs for the CIUSSS de l'Ouest de l'Île de Montréal, the health agency that oversees the Lakeshore.

"We are concerned that with the possible conflict of interest, the coroner's investigation will not shed light on all the facts and circumstances of my mom's death," Gilda Macarine, Candida Macarine's daughter told the news conference.

Coroner steps aside

Late Monday, Jake-Lamotta Granato, a spokesperson for the coroner's office, told CBC in an email that while the chief coroner still has full confidence in Spénard, she's no longer on the case.

"She hasn't been an employee of the CIUSSS for several years. She has all the independence necessary to carry out this investigation," Lamotta-Granato said.

Karine Spénard asked the Chief Coroner Monday to appoint another coroner to the case, saying she had lost the trust of the family. (LinkedIn)

"However, as Ms. Macarine's family members withdrew their trust in Coroner Spénard, the latter requested that the investigation of the death be transferred to another coroner," Lamotta-Granato said.

"The Chief Coroner accepted his request and a new coroner will be appointed to pursue the case," he added.

Important to 'rebuild confidence'

Emmanuelle Marceau, associate professor at Université de Montréal's school of public health, told CBC that while Spénard wasn't in a direct conflict of interest, it's probably best that a new coroner will be appointed.

"Considering that the person (Spénard) was at the job for  a certain number of years, maybe she made connections, she knows people internally, so perhaps she might not have been able to lead this investigation in the most objective fashion," Marceau said.

"In situations where people have lost a loved one, and where they've lost confidence in the system, they have doubts because they don't understand what happened, there's miscommunication, it's important to rebuild that confidence," Marceau said.

"It's important for this family, but also for Quebec society, to maintain confidence in our CIUSSSes and our health-care system," she added.