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NDP Corners Coroner's Defenders

James accuses Campbell, Les of 'misleading' the public.

David Beers 23 Nov 2006TheTyee.ca

David Beers is founding editor of The Tyee.

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It was supposed to be a fast, final dash to close out the child death reviews scandal. MLAs would stream into Victoria and affirm the appointment of a new children's representative in time to catch the late ferries. Well, they'd better find couches to sleep on.

Vowing to keep the leg going through Monday, NDP Leader Carole James tabled FOI documents and levelled the new accusation that Premier Gordon Campbell and Solicitor General John Les knew otherwise when they claimed the B.C. Coroners Service was well suited to review child deaths. That job had been handled by the B.C. Children's Commission before the Libs shut it down in 2002 to save money.

Campbell and Les have admitted to organizational fumbling. But not to fibbing.

"I want to be very clear," James declared. "These documents explicitly show the premier and the solicitor general knew that what they were telling the public was not the truth."

Reports the CBC: James cites a document from the coroners service written in September 2005 that says as many as 40 per cent of all child deaths may not be reported to the coroner. The document adds that necessary reviews may not be conducted because the coroner doesn't have the legislative authority to review all child deaths.

If so, the coroners service hadn't been quick to let on, either. In January of 2005, when toddler Cody Fontaine was mauled to death in his home, Tyee reporter Judith Ince wrote that the coroner lacked the investigative mandate of the defunct children's commissioner.

Assistant Deputy Coroner Lisa Lapointe fired back a letter with this blanket assurance: "The B.C. Coroners Service is committed to ensuring all children's deaths in the province are thoroughly and independently reviewed."

In November of 2005, a group of whistle-blowing forensic experts sent a letter to Les making a detailed case that the coroner's service was mismanaged and risked losing credibility. As reported in The Tyee, Les wholly dismissed their concerns.

About the same time, the coroners service was revealed to have piled up over 700 incomplete reviews of child deaths in B.C.

And just last month, B.C. Child and Youth Officer Jane Morley's report blamed dawdling by the coroners service in part for why Sherry Charlie's toddler brother remained in the care of his uncle months after ministry officials had reason to suspect the uncle was Sherry's killer.

Quite a slippery track record for the coroners service and its elected, high ranking defenders. Carole James and the NDP intend to muddy it some more. And clearly, they're in no hurry to finish up.  [Tyee]

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