The Quebec coroner presiding over an inquest into pandemic-related elderly-care deaths will announce Tuesday morning whether she will grant a postponement or a publication ban sought by operators of the Herron nursing home.
The highly awaited hearings were to start Monday and would focus this week on the Herron residence, in Montreal’s West Island, where 47 died and survivors were left in squalid conditions during the first wave of COVID-19, last spring.
“The loss of a human life when it could have been avoided is always a tragedy for loved ones and society. But the indecent and inhuman conditions surrounding those deaths should also be considered,” coroner Géhane Kamel said in her opening remarks.
Quebec health authorities and the police have also launched investigations into the deaths at Herron. The lead Montreal police investigator, Detective Sergeant Andréanne Laplante, was to be the inquest’s first witness.
Nadine Touma, a lawyer for Herron’s management, said holding the inquest now would harm her clients, who might face criminal charges.
She represents Herron executive director Andrei Stanica and Samantha Chowieri, a manager at the Herron’s parent company, Katasa Group.
In a request filed at the inquiry, Ms. Touma said Det. Sgt. Laplante told her in late June that police had already submitted the report of their investigation to prosecutors.
“Since seven months have elapsed … without knowing when a decision will be taken, it’s reasonable to expect that it will happen sooner than later,” Ms. Touma told the inquest.
She asked that the hearings be put off until prosecutors decide whether to file charges. Failing that, Ms. Touma asked for a publication ban on the inquest’s testimonies.
Marie-Claude Bourassa, an attorney representing the Quebec prosecution service, told the inquest it is impossible to say whether a decision to file charges is imminent.
Her office is assessing the police’s report, but “we don’t currently have a deadline or a date because it is a review that has to be thorough,” she said.
Relatives of Herron residents don’t want further delays, having waited months to learn more about the debacle, said Patrick Martin-Ménard, a lawyer representing four of the families. “This will have a detrimental impact on the families,” he told the coroner.
Lawyers for the media told the inquest that the Supreme Court of Canada has indicated that publication bans should only be imposed when there is a real, substantial risk to the administration of justice, not hypothetical concerns.
The inquest was scheduled to hold 11 weeks of hearings between February and June, and would also look at six other care homes, including the Sainte-Dorothée, Yvon-Brunet and Laflèche facilities and the Manoir Liverpool seniors’ residence.
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