Toronto

Wettlaufer public inquiry set to begin this week in string of nursing home murders

A year after disgraced nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer admitted to killing eight patients and trying to kill or harm six more, a public inquiry into her crimes is set to begin Tuesday.

Former nurse confessed to killing 8 patients and trying to harm 6 more

Elizabeth Wettlaufer is escorted from the courthouse in Woodstock, Ont., on Jan. 13, 2017. The public inquiry into her crimes is set to begin Tuesday in St. Thomas, Ont. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

A year after disgraced nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer admitted to killing eight patients and trying to kill or harm six more, a public inquiry into her crimes is set to begin Tuesday.

The inquiry — scheduled to last about four months — will take place in St. Thomas, Ont., not far from the southwestern Ontario communities where the victims lived in long-term care facilities.  

Last June, Wettlaufer was convicted of eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault. In each case, the registered nurse injected the victims against their will with massive doses of insulin — spiralling them into hypoglycemic shock.

This wasn't the fault of one person; this was the fault of the system.- Andrea Silcox, daughter of victim James Silcox

The first patient, James Silcox, was killed in August 2007 at the Caressant Care nursing home in Woodstock, Ont.  

"This wasn't the fault of one person; this was the fault of the system," says his daughter Andrea Silcox. "It wasn't just Wettlaufer that is to blame for this whole thing. She was given the opportunity to do these things by people brushing her previous issues under the table."

Wettlaufer's crimes went undetected until late 2016, when she checked herself into a Toronto psychiatric facility and confessed to her crimes. Police were called in and pieced together a decade-long series of crimes that had started just weeks after Wettlaufer was hired to care for the elderly in Woodstock.

Andrea Silcox's father James was the first of Wettlaufer's eight murder victims. (Joe Da Ponte/CBC)

Did system fail victims and their families?

Wettlaufer had a long history of drug abuse, mental health problems and was eventually suspended five times for making errors that harmed patients.

It's expected the inquest will examine what role, if any, the Ontario Nurses Association — the union representing the province's nurses — played in ensuring Wettlaufer was allowed to keep working.

It's also expected to shine a light on what the Ontario College of Nurses knew about Wettlaufer and why it didn't suspend her licence earlier.

Finally, the inquest is expected to reveal what the local coroner and police knew about Wettlaufer, her victims and what action they took, if any.

"There's a lot more facts that have to be discovered, and I think a lot more heads are gonna roll on this one" says Arpad Horvath Jr.

His father was the victim of several insulin attacks before he finally died in August 2014 while a resident of Meadow Park care facility in London where Wettlaufer also worked.

"He was my best friend," said Horvath Jr.

Wettlaufer won't testify

Arpad Horvath Jr.'s father was murdered by Wettlaufer in London, Ont., in August 2014. (CBC)

The 51-year-old Wettlaufer surrendered her nursing licence in 2016 and eventually pleaded guilty to all criminal charges. She won't be among the health-care professionals and administrators set to testify.

Lawyers representing the commission interviewed Wettlaufer at an Ontario prison but fought the idea of having her testify in court. They argued they wanted to focus on the system that allowed Wettlaufer to commit the crimes, not the offender herself.

That's not sitting well with Horvath Jr.

"I would definitely like to hear from her because she's the focal point of this entire investigation. She can shed a lot of light on this."

Regardless, it's expected there will be plenty of blame to go around. The only reason the crimes came to an end was because Wettlaufer eventually confessed.

Let's put all the cards on the table and just be open and transparent with each other.- Arpad Horvath Jr., whose father was murdered by Wettlaufer

At her criminal trial it was revealed the system was unable to prevent any of the deaths even though there were red flags and mounting evidence Wettlaufer was unfit to care for anyone let alone society's most vulnerable.

CBC Toronto has learned her drug abuse problems dated back to 1995 when she first became a nurse.

"Let's put all the cards on the table and just be open and transparent with each other," says Horvath Jr.

The inquiry will release its final report on July 31, 2019.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Lancaster

Senior Reporter, CBC Toronto

John Lancaster is a senior reporter with CBC News focusing on investigative and enterprise journalism. His stories have taken him across Canada, the US and the Caribbean. His reports have appeared on CBC Toronto, The National, CBC's Marketplace, The Fifth Estate-and of course CBC online and radio. Drop him a line anytime at john.lancaster@cbc.ca.

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