About Fatality Inquiries
The Fatality Investigations Act is concerned with investigations related to deaths in defined circumstances. Anyone with knowledge or reason to believe that a person has died under certain circumstances, such as violence, accident or suicide, is obligated to notify a medical examiner.
Following an investigation by a medical examiner, a fatality inquiry may be recommended by the Chief Medical Examiner to the Minister of Justice, in which case an inquiry becomes mandatory. The Minister may call an inquiry if it is determined one is needed in the public interest or the interest of public safety.
Deaths that occur in health-care facilities, custody or detention centres, deaths related to employment or occupation or those that occur unexpectedly when a person is in good health, when a person is not under the care of a physician, where the cause of death is undetermined or as the result of improper or suspected negligent treatment by a person are all reportable to a medical examiner and can be the subject of an inquiry.
When the Minister orders that a fatality inquiry be held, the Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia appoints a Provincial Court Judge to conduct the inquiry and make recommendations on any of the issues identified in the Minister’s order. The Judge’s findings shall not contain any findings of misconduct.
A fatality inquiry is different from a public inquiry. Public inquiries are governed by the Public Inquiries Act. They are called by the Governor in Council whenever it is deemed expedient to look into a public matter in relation to which the legislature may make laws. Public inquiries traditionally focus on uncovering facts and can make findings of legal responsibility.
The Inquiry is directed to determine the circumstances under which these deaths occurred, including:
- the circumstances of Lionel Desmond’s release from St. Martha’s Hospital on January 2, 2017;
- whether Lionel Desmond had access to appropriate mental health services, including treatment for Occupational Stress Injuries;
- whether Lionel Desmond and his family had access to appropriate domestic violence intervention services;
- whether health care and social services providers who interacted with Lionel Desmond were trained to recognize the symptoms of Occupational Stress Injuries or domestic violence;
- given Nova Scotia administration of the Canadian Firearms Program, whether Lionel Desmond should have been able to retain, or obtain a licence, enabling him to obtain or purchase a firearm;
- what restrictions, if any, applied to accessing federal health records of Lionel Desmond, by provincial health authorities or personnel; and
- any recommendations of the Judge about the foregoing matters.
The full scope of the Inquiry is outlined in the Ministerial Order (also referred to as the terms of reference).
At the conclusion of the Inquiry, the presiding Judge will prepare a written report with findings and recommendations on the terms identified in the Ministerial Order.
The Honourable Warren K. Zimmer, a Judge of the Provincial Court, has accepted the appointment and will preside over the proceedings, including all preliminary matters.
Sec. 29 of the Fatality Investigations Act vests the presiding Judge with all the powers, privileges and immunities of a commissioner appointed under the Public Inquiries Act. This includes the power to compel witnesses to attend the inquiry, give evidence and produce documents.
Decisions and Recommendations
The Judge’s decisions and recommendations will be made public. The Fatality Investigations Act requires that the Judge file a written report with the Provincial Court and provide a copy to the provincial Minister of Justice. A copy of the final report and recommendations will be posted on the Inquiry website.
Viewing the Inquiry
Sec. 32 of the Fatality Investigations Act provides that all hearings at a fatality inquiry shall be open to the public except where the Judge is of the opinion that matters involving public security or intimate, personal matters may be disclosed and that the desirability of avoiding disclosure of the matters in the interest of any person affected or in the public interest outweighs the desirability of adhering to the principle that hearings be open to the public. In those instances, the presiding Judge may decide to hold the hearing or any part of the hearing in camera (in private). The Inquiry will also be livestreamed on the Inquiry website, except if the Judge directs otherwise, and the archived video posted online.
Inquiry Time and Location
The Inquiry proceedings will take place in the Guysborough Municipal Building at 33 Pleasant St., Guysborough, N.S. Among other things, the building was previously used as a satellite courthouse.
The application process to determine who will be permitted to participate in the Inquiry is now underway. Applications will be accepted until 4:30 p.m. AST on Monday, April 29, 2019. The Participation (Standing) Hearings will begin on Tuesday, May 21, 2019. The Inquiry expects to start hearing evidence in September 2019.
Participating in the Inquiry
Sec. 36 of the Fatality Investigations Act, defines the participants in a fatality inquiry to include a personal representative of the deceased and any person who applies to the Judge before or during the inquiry and is declared by the Judge to be an interested person.
Anyone seeking to participate in the Inquiry may wish to consult with a lawyer prior to completing the application form, which is available on the Inquiry website. To ensure consideration by the Judge, your completed form must be submitted by 4:30 p.m. AST on Monday, April 29, 2019.
Apply to participate.