Urban Alliance Intervenes on Behalf of Family Participation in Inquests

Urban Alliance on Race Relations President Nigel Barriffe says he finds it “shocking and very upsetting” that Ontario would appeal a Superior Court decision that allows families of a deceased person who participate in a coroner’s inquest to claim their legal fees as damages in a civil lawsuit. The Urban Alliance has been granted standing as a friend of the court in the case of Harris v. Ontario at the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Lawyers Asha James and Marc Gibson of Falconers LLP act for the Urban Alliance in the appeal. The appeal will be heard on September 20, 2017.

The appeal arises from the death of 26-year-old Jonathan Dew after being held in custody in the Windsor Jail. Mr. Dew’s mother had to pay her own legal expenses to participate in the inquest into his death, while several publicly funded lawyers appeared on behalf of other parties. In a civil action arising from the death, Mr. Dew’s family members claimed those legal expenses as special damages under s. 61 of the Family Law Act. A Superior Court judge held on a pretrial motion by the plaintiffs that the inquest expenses were potentially recoverable at law if proven at trial.

The defendants, which include Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario and several provincial government bodies and employees, have appealed the motion judge’s decision. As a friend of the Court, the Urban Alliance is making submissions with respect to the access to justice aspects of the appeal and its potential effect on racialized communities in particular. Racialized individuals are overrepresented in the justice system but disproportionately unable to afford access to justice. The Urban Alliance is arguing that it increases access to justice both to allow families to claim inquest expenses as damages in a civil action, as well as to allow pretrial motions to determine questions of law prior to incurring the expense of a trial.

Related Documents

Appeal Factum   June 23, 2017

Harris v. Ontario, 2016 ONSC 4641. Ruling on Motion

In the News

Coroner’s inquest – Province’s appeal shocks advocate    The London Free Press, July 24, 2017

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