Sunday, February 8, 2009

110 Year Old Coroners Act "A Barnacled Creature That Keeps Growing Barnacles"

Hon. John Foran, NB Minister of Public SafetyOn Thursday, February 5 we wrote a letter to the Minister of Public Safety, Hon. John Foran, asking him to please consider interim changes to the Coroners Act before the Inquest into the deaths of our sons begins in April or May. [Click here to read letter to Hon. John Foran, NB Minister of Public Safety, in Word format or read the post in our blog.]

Specifically, what we are asking for is this:

a) …create standing for victims and other interested parties at Inquests
b) initiate a comprehensive review of the Coroners Act with a view to modernizing it as almost all other Provinces have already done.

Not A New Idea

What we are asking for is not new. In 2003, the Canadian Bar Association - New Brunswick Branch, submitted a review and recommendations called "Bringing Death Investigations in New Brunswick into the 21st Century". [Click here to download document in PDF format].

The 2003 review was highly critical of the NB Coroners Act, saying the citizens of this province continue to be "misled" by reliance on a system which cannot meet modern day requirements.

It called for a complete overhaul of the Act, saying it "lacks the ability to respond to the modern day requirements of death investigation, to provide answers and to provide recommendations that will be respected and implemented in order to protect the safety of its citizens."

The 2003 review was ignored by the then governing party of Bernard Lord. So in April 2008, when the government of Shawn Graham was considering changes to the Act in Bill 48, An Act to Amend the Coroners Act, David O'Brien of the CBA-NB Branch asked the government of Shawn Graham to consider implementing interim changes to the Act while it undergoes a complete overhaul. [Click here to read April 21, 2008 letter to John Foran from CBA-NB in PDF format].

Minister Says Nothing Wrong With Act: We Disagree

Apparently, the Minister of Public Safety, Hon. John Foran refused the CBA-NB's request to make interim changes to the Act, saying there was nothing wrong with the Coroners Act.

Sound familiar?

That's what they said about the passenger van our children were in that awful night last January when they were killed. There was nothing wrong with that van either and we all know what happened.

So on Saturday, February 7, we sent out a copy of Mr. Foran's letter to every MLA asking them for help in changing the Coroners Act. We have already received a few replies and will be following up with these MLAs.

Specifically, we are asking all MLAs to please consider our request to have interim changes to the Coroners' Act that will allow us to have standing at the Coroners Inquest which we expect will be held in April or May.

We want this Coroners Inquest to make a difference. We have spoken with a number of people who have gone through Inquests and they were not happy with the outcome. They felt that their lack of legal representation negatively affected the Inquest and that there was no follow up on the recommendations. This is precisely what the 2003 CBA-NB Review said was wrong with the Act.

It is now February 2009. Two governments have seen the CBA-NB report and nothing has changed with the Coroners Act. We will not be allowed to have legal representation at the Inquest unless we fight for it. We can never be sure that the Coroners Jury recommendations will ever be implemented unless the Act is changed.

We will not take no for an answer. The NB Coroners Act is essentially the same piece of legislation that it was 110 years ago. It is, as one legal expert said, "a barnacled creature that keeps growing barnacles." In honour of our sons' memory, we want changes to the Coroners Act that will improve the process for all New Brunswickers who have the terrible misfortune to have reason to attend a Coroners Inquest.