The Ontario Court of Appeal Overturns Decision Dismissing Action in Meekis v. Ontario
On July 26th, 2021, the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned a decision from Justice John Fregeau of the Thunder Bay Superior Court of Justice dismissing the action brought by the family of Brody Meekis against the Chief Coroner, the Regional Supervising Coroner and the Investigating Coroner for failure to investigate the death of their four year old son, Brody Meekis.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal allowed the family’s action to proceed stating that the motion judge erred in analyzing two of the grounds of the lawsuit namely, allegations of misfeasance of public office and breach of charter rights.
Brody died in 2014 from cardiac complications arising from Group A Streptococcal infection, commonly known as strep throat after the community nursing station refused to give an appointment for Brody’s illness. Following his death, the coroner failed to conduct an adequate investigation as per the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario Guidelines. The Court of Appeal found that the motion judge did not consider the allegations that the coroner’s office discriminated against indigenous people by failing to attend to investigate deaths in First Nations communities. If these allegations are proven at trial, the Office of the Chief Coroner of Ontario could be liable for misfeasance in a public office.
Furthermore, the Court of Appeal allowed the Meekis’ action to proceed under section 15 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brody’s family claims damages pursuant to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms alleging breach of the equality rights. Section 15 provides that “Everyone has the right to equality before the law and to equal protection of the law without discrimination because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age or sex”. The actions of the coroner in the Meekis case will be found to have violated their charter rights if the allegations are proven in court.
Significantly, at paragraph 154 of the decision, the Court of Appeal reported that “If the investigating coroner’s conduct in Brody’s case is proved to be part of a “blanket” policy of coronial non-attendance in places like Sandy Lake First Nation, this would amount to an effective denial of the benefit of coronial services available elsewhere in the province”, and that “requiring on-reserve Indigenous peoples to live without adequate coronial services could arguably amount to a burden imposed on individuals of a historically disadvantaged group, a burden which is not imposed on non-members of that group.”