Court Decision Allows Civil Action to Proceed Against Ontario Coroner’s System

THUNDER BAY, ON: Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler welcomes a court ruling that will allow a civil action to proceed against the Ontario coroner’s system for failing to investigate the tragic death of Brody Meekis, who died in Sandy Lake First Nation in 2014 from an easily curable illness when he was just four years old.

“The death of Brody Meekis was a tragedy, and the failure of the coroner’s system to investigate sent a terrible message that Indigenous lives do not matter and are not valued the same as non-Indigenous Peoples. This judgment is significant as it upholds the duty of Ontario’s coroners to investigate the deaths of all children without any discrimination,” said Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler. “This case makes serious allegations, and I am pleased that the Court agrees that they should be heard in full, and that the law must hold public officials accountable.”

Delivered today, the judgment overturns a 2019 decision by the Ontario Superior Court, in which the Meekis/Keno family’s claim was struck in its entirety. At the time, the Court ruled that the lawsuit contained “no reasonable cause of action.” In its judgment today, the Court of Appeal disagreed, ruling instead that the family’s litigation may proceed, based on two causes of action:

  1. A claim of misfeasance in public office against Dr. Aniol (the “investigating coroner”) and Drs. Dirk Huyer and Michael Wilson (the “supervising coroners”); and
  2. A claim that the appellants’ Equality Rights, under s. 15 of the Charter, were infringed, and that damages were warranted as a remedy under s. 24(1) of the Charter.

The family’s Section 15 Charter claim alleges that there is a ‘systemic, discriminatory pattern of failing to investigate the deaths of First Nations children’ and that this conduct violates the equality rights of the Meekis/Keno family. The family alleges that there is an ongoing, “unwritten” practice of coroners failing to attend to investigate the deaths of First Nations children, treating those children as less worthy of having their deaths investigated.

The judgment agrees that this allegation should be given a full hearing in court. The Court noted that, if proven, the family’s allegation – that “because they are First Nations people living on a reserve, and therefore members of a group protected by s.15, they received differential treatment” – would constitute a Charter violation.

Brody Meekis died of strep throat, a common bacterial infection easily cured with antibiotics. His death garnered national attention about the inequities of health care in remote First Nations communities.

The family claims that the coroners deliberately failed to fulfil their duty, and that they were aware of the risk of harm to Brody’s family, as well as to all First Nations persons who have a right to a proper death investigation when a child dies. Today’s judgment does not address the question of guilt but agrees that the allegations should be given a full hearing.

The decision can be found here:

https://www.ontariocourts.ca/decisions/2021/2021ONCA0534.pdf

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790
mheintzman@nan.ca