Court of Appeal Reserves on Discrimination Case Against Coroner’s Office
May 7, 2021
On Thursday May 6, 2021, Julian Falconer and Molly Churchill from Falconers LLP appeared before the Ontario Court of Appeal on behalf of the Keno-Meekis family, as they continue to pursue accountability for failures in the Ontario coronial system following the death of their son Brody Meekis.
Brody was only four years old when he died from complications arising from strep throat, an easily curable infection in Canada. Brody died in his home community of Sandy Lake First Nation in May of 2014. Following his death, Ontario’s coronial system did not thoroughly investigate Brody’s death, as required under the Coroners Act. No coroner attended the community, communicated with the family, or contacted officials in the local nursing station.
The claim against the investigating coroner, Regional Supervising Coroner, the Chief Coroner of Ontario, and Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario alleges misfeasance in public office, negligent supervision, and breach of equality rights protected by s. 15 of the Charter. In April 2019, a lower court judge dismissed the case, essentially agreeing with the province’s position that the coroner was under no legal obligation to attend at the scene of Brody’s death, and had acted within his discretion by refraining to do so.
During Thursday’s court appearance, counsel for the Keno-Meekis family Julian Falconer emphasized that a coroner’s failure to attend to investigate the death of a First Nations child was part of a broader, systemic pattern in which the deaths of First Nations individuals are treated as less important:
“The failure of coroners to attend death scenes in remote First Nations communities is a pattern. The law has to be able to hold public officials accountable when that pattern emerges. This needs and screams for accountability.”
New Levels of Access to Judicial Hearings for Remote Communities
Thursday’s hearing also marked an important moment for accessibility of court proceedings in this province.
In addition to a Zoom livestream and teleconference line, the Court authorized that the hearing be simultaneously broadcast via the local TV station in Sandy Lake. This important measure reflects the challenges of remoteness and broadband issues in many remote First Nation communities, challenges which have only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. For these communities, the local TV station is an important way in which community members access news and important events, without relying on the high-speed internet that many Ontarians take for granted.
This groundbreaking order for access to an appeal hearing allowed hundreds of people in the community to witness the hearing at the same time, including members of Brody’s family. The community will also have access to a recording of the proceeding to rebroadcast it for thirty days. Additionally, individuals from neighbouring First Nations of Sachigo Lake, Deer Lake, and Keewaywin were also able to watch the hearing, along with family and community members living across northwestern Ontario in locations such as Sioux Lookout, Dryden, and Thunder Bay.
These practices represent a true step forward to allowing people in remote communities to be involved in legal proceedings that deeply affect them.
Current Media Coverage:
The Canadian Press has reported on the appeal hearing in a story that has been circulated by news outlets across Canada. Click below for examples of this coverage: