Human Rights Challenge to Coroners Act to Proceed

TORONTO – August 17, 2005 – The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal has granted intervenor status to the Mental Health Legal Committee (MHLC), the Empowerment Council, Systemic Advocates in Addiction and Mental Health (Empowerment Council), and the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office (PPAO) in an upcoming hearing regarding Ontario's Coroners Act. Retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Cory, sitting as the Tribunal, granted all three groups permission to call and cross-examine witnesses and to make submissions. He found that the intervenors are to be represented by the same counsel.

The Honourable Peter Cory also denied motions brought the Attorney General for Ontario and the Chief Coroner to dismiss the complaints on various technical grounds. He found that the "noble words" of the Human Rights Code should "never receive a narrow, legalistic interpretation."

The Tribunal is scheduled in January 2006 to hear the complaints of Renata Braithwaite, who lost her mother, and Robert Illingworth, who lost his brother, in two of the many fatal incidents that occur in Ontario's psychiatric hospitals each year. The Office of the Chief Coroner refused to hold inquests into those deaths. The Coroners Act stipulates that inquests are mandatory for persons that die while detained by the police or in correctional facilities, but does not not mandate inquests for persons that die while held in psychiatric facilities. The complainants allege that the Coroners Act contravenes the Human Rights Code because it discriminates against persons receiving services on the basis of disability. For our previous press release on the background of these complaints, please click here.

For the full text of the decisions in PDF format, please click here for the decision respecting the Attorney General's motion and here for the intervention decision.

MHLC and the Empowerment Council are represented by Marshall Swadron and Kelley Bryan of Swadron Associates.