Aboriginal Legal Services prepare “alternative report” to Sinclair Inquest

TORONTO – Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto’s senior staff counsel, Emily Hill advised that ALST will soon publicly release an “alternative report” that will make recommendations for improving the health care system and ensuring “equal health care access by First Nations people.”

The recommendations will be made by an expert working group of Aboriginal health care professionals, PhDs and MDs, policy makers and academics, whose expertise was initially sought by ALST during their participation in the coroner’s inquest into Mr. Brian Sinclair’s tragic and unnecessary death in a Winnipeg hospital in September 2008.

SinclairHill advised that ALST had standing in Phase I of the inquest, but removed themselves after losing confidence in the process at Phase II, when the newly presiding judge decided to narrow the scope of the inquest to focus only on administrative procedures at the hospital and refused to make recommendations on the larger systemic issues such as racial discrimination that led to Mr. Sinclair’s death.

Brian Sinclair had sought treatment at the Winnipeg hospital for an easily treatable bladder infection caused by a blocked catheter. He had been referred to the hospital by a community clinic for the minor procedure when he disclosed that he had not urinated in 24 hours.

Sinclair checked in with the emergency room nurses, but was never triaged or tended to in any way. He had been instructed to wait in the waiting area. Sinclair was ignored by hospital staff for 34 hours. The hospital’s surveillance footage shows that numerous nurses walked past him, checking on the status of all other patients but refusing to speak to or tend to Sinclair.

Sinclair was identifiably Native, a double amputee, living in poverty and had a cognitive impairment, which led hospital staff to make negative assumptions about his reasons for seeking treatment.

One nurse admitted in the coroner’s inquest that she had ignored Sinclair because she assumed him to be “IPDA” which stands for Intoxicated Persons Detention Act. A classification of a patient as IPDA would mean that the person is so intoxicated they need to be detained by police.

This classification can only be made by a physician and still would have required that Sinclair be triaged and periodically assessed by nurses thereafter until police arrived. It was reported that Sinclair was not intoxicated and the surveillance camera footage shows him politely sitting in the waiting area with his hands folded.

During the inquest, the nurse denied that her assumption about Sinclair being intoxicated was because he was visibly Native; claiming instead that she made the assumption because he was in a wheelchair. Other staff assumed he was homeless or “not in need of medical care.”

As Sinclair’s health deteriorated in the waiting room, bystanders attempted to call for medical attention on Sinclair’s behalf – a request the nurses continued to refuse. By the time an off-duty nurse approached Sinclair, he had already passed away. Manitoba’s chief medical examiner stated that Sinclair had likely been deceased for several hours prior to that.

The Crown Attorney’s office had been asked to consider laying criminal charges against hospital staff for their refusal to assist Sinclair. The coroner’s inquest was delayed for two years while that “question” sat on the Crown Attorney’s desk for consideration. Eventually, the Crown Attorney refused to lay charges of homicide and refused to give reasons why charges would not be laid.

Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto issued a press release December 12, 2014 stating: “Harmful stereotypes about Aboriginal people persist in Canadian society as a whole and that includes the health care setting. Brian Sinclair was a victim of those stereotypes because staff assumed he was homeless or intoxicated, instead of treating him as someone who needed medical care,” said Christa Big Canoe, Legal Advocacy Director of ALST.
“Aboriginal patients continue to face these stereotypes every day when they access health care services and this issue was largely ignored in the Report.”

“We agree with the expert evidence provided by Dr. Janet Smylie that Brian Sinclair’s death is the ‘the tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to how discrimination contributes to negative health outcomes for Aboriginal patients,” said Emily Hill.

The Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto encourages First Nations leaders, organizations and families to use their soon to be released alternative report to develop advocacy resources and for educational purposes. Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto can be found online at www.aboriginallegal.ca.

The full story on Brian Sinclair’s passing and his family’s struggle to seek justice on his behalf can be found online at http://ignoredtodeathmanitoba.ca/wp2/. Complete certified transcripts from the inquest are included and available for public view.

The hope is that a national conversation will commence about the racism that exists in the health care system.

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