Families disappointed, sad as probe into spring COVID-19 deaths at Montreal West Island care home delayed

Families of dozens of people who died during the first wave of the pandemic last spring at CHSLD Herron on Montreal's West Island say they're disappointed they'll have to wait even longer for closure.

Coroner's examination into deaths in six other long-term care homes will proceed as planned

A woman sits at a desk in front of a screen
Coroner Géhane Kamel is presiding over the public inquiry examining deaths at Quebec's long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. On Tuesday, Kamel said the probe into deaths at CHSLD Herron on Montreal's West Island would be delayed until September. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Family members of people who died at the CHSLD Herron care home on Montreal's West Island said Tuesday they were disappointed and upset after the coroner at the public inquiry into Quebec's long-term care homes delayed the probe into events at that facility until autumn.

Moira Davis, whose father died at Herron, expressed worry there could be more delays.

"These families are looking for closure," and expect answers as to exactly what went so badly wrong, Davis said.

"Am I disappointed? Yes. I'm concerned the longer it goes on, the less this is going to make the news." 

The owners of the long-term care home filed a motion Monday to have the inquiry delayed until prosecutors decide whether to lay criminal charges against them. 

Flowers and notes for loved ones are seen at a makeshift memorial in front of the CHSLD Herron last April. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

The hearings into what happened at the CHSLD will be delayed until September, Coroner Géhane Kamel ruled Tuesday.

Forty-seven people died at the home during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

"I'm just upset," said Patrizia Di Biase, whose mother Antonietta Pollice survived last spring's outbreaks and has since moved out."

Families want answers

"Yes, my mom is still around, but I'm upset. Just because they don't want it to taint them they are suspending it. It's ridiculous."

The point of the inquiry, she continued, is "not to go after [CHSLD Herron's owners]. It's not to go after them. It's to fix things in our seniors system."

Di Biase said families of residents will suffer the most from the delay.

"We all wanted to get it out in the open so we can continue on, but they don't think of that. They think of themselves." 

WATCH | Patrizia Di Biase says families still waiting for closure:

Families affected by CHSLD Herron inquiry still waiting for closure

3 years ago
Duration 1:22
Featured VideoPatrizia Di Biase, whose mother Antonietta Pollice survived last spring's outbreaks at CHSLD Herron, said families want answers, not delays.

A lawyer for four families who lost loved ones at CHSLD Herron last spring said Kamel made "the least bad decision," considering her options.

"From the perspective of the families, of course it's very sad," Patrick Martin-Ménard said. "Unfortunately, this is the reality of our justice system."

Calling the decision a "painful dilemma," Kamel explained that if the inquiry had gone ahead as planned, she expected the lawyers for Herron's owners, Gatineau-based Katasa Groupe + Développement, to take the matter to court.

"The last time a coroner's ruling was challenged before the Superior Court, the inquiry was delayed for four years," she said.

Peter Wheeland's mother and father were both in Herron at the height of the crisis. They survived after Wheeland was able to have them transferred.  Both have since died.

Searching for the truth 

Wheeland is concerned that any delay reduces the chance of the full truth coming out.

"What I fear the most is that the memories of the witnesses are going to be affected."

"I think that is gonna mean we're gonna have a less accurate picture of what went on, if we have to wait basically a year-and-a-half after events before we hear people's version." 

The inquiry, which is slated to look into several CHSLDs in the province, will continue its other work in the interim.

On Monday, Kamel described the conditions in which residents at Herron died as "indecent" and "inhumane."

WATCH | Surviving residents of one of Quebec's hardest hit long-term care homes are moving out:

Surviving residents of one of Quebec's hardest hit long-term care homes are moving out

3 years ago
Duration 3:19
Featured VideoCHSLD Herron became the symbol of the COVID-19 catastrophe that ravaged long-term care homes in Quebec. One by one, the surviving residents are being moved out.


Sean Gordon


Sean Gordon is a CBC reporter based in Quebec's Eastern Townships, and has previously covered the National Assembly, Parliament and the Montreal Canadiens. Follow him on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

with files from Alison Northcott, Simon Nakonechny and Radio-Canada

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