Inquests are a slog for affected families

Just over a year ago, Mark Potvin stood at an inquest into the death of his son and questioned the last people to see him alive. The Ontario father represented his family while facts were laid out about how RCMP Const.

Just over a year ago, Mark Potvin stood at an inquest into the death of his son and questioned the last people to see him alive.

The Ontario father represented his family while facts were laid out about how RCMP Const. Michael Potvin drowned in Mayo’s Stewart River on July 13, 2010.

At the inquest the family did not have a lawyer.

Potvin is in the uncommon position of being able to know what’s awaiting the families of Teresa Scheunert and Mary Johnny.

The two women died on separate occasions after receiving care at the Watson Lake Hospital. A single inquest into their deaths was originally planned for March and has now been pushed back until the summer.

Scheunert’s family has publicly raised concerns about their inability to find a lawyer to represent them. They’re also unsure of how to cover the cost of coming from Alberta to the Yukon if they have to represent themselves.

Both the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the two doctors involved will have lawyers representing them, alongside a lawyer working for the coroner.

In an interview yesterday, Potvin said he doesn’t regret not having a lawyer.

“I explored the idea, but quite frankly, they’re just too expensive for what you’re going to get. An inquest is a non-binding, non-fault finding inquiry,” he said from his home outside Ottawa.

“So there’s no benefit to hiring a lawyer. It’s not like a civil case where you’re going to have some money to be made out of this. It’s an entirely different paradigm.”

That doesn’t mean the process was an easy one.

The computer programmer estimates he spent 100 hours of his own time preparing for the inquest.

Without a lawyer, Potvin said he had to work to find other sources of help.

In the end he turned to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. That organization gave him a sounding board and someone to bounce ideas off of.

“He couldn’t represent me, and he couldn’t give me legal advice, but I could talk to him. He would at least talk to me when I had problems, particularly legal problems, and say, ‘Well, they should be doing this or they should be doing that.’

“But he couldn’t give me legal advice. At least he could keep me on the right track,” Potvin said.

The hardest part comes early in the process when the sides are discussing what information will be made public, he said.

“The biggest part was disclosure, getting all the facts. I kept running into privacy restrictions. Every time I’d want something I’d get told, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t know because that’s restricted.”

He eventually did get all the information he needed, Potvin said.

The NDP has raised concerns about the fairness of the process, if the Scheunert and Johnny families don’t have legal representation.

Health critic Jan Stick called for the government to provide some form of support.

“What we do want is at minimum a basic amount of legal support,” she said.

Stick points to a number of pre-inquest meetings that are being planned. The families should have someone to turn to for help understanding what is going on, she said.

But, for families, the cost of an inquest goes beyond the cost of a lawyer.

Scheunert’s sister and two daughters have said they would like to come to Whitehorse for the hearing.

That means things like flights and hotel rooms.

In Potvin’s case, his costs were covered by an RCMP family fund set up to support members in need.

No one has come forward to offer Scheunert’s family help, said Scheunert’s sister, Wanda Zimmerman, this week.

Potvin estimates it cost about $2,000 for a flight from Ontario and $1,000 for accommodations.

The Potvin inquest lasted about a week.

The Scheunert/Johnny inquest is scheduled for two weeks.

Stick points out that witnesses called by a coroner for an inquest have all of their costs covered by the government.

The most recent inquest, into the death of a Porter Creek family and their friend from carbon monoxide poisoning, cost between $60,000 and $70,0000, said Department of Justice spokesperson Dan Cable.

That includes witnesses’ expenses and other costs associated with running a hearing.

A witness list hasn’t been set for the upcoming inquest, Cable said.

The territory averages about 1.5 inquests a year.

Depending on where you live in Canada, it may be possible for a family to get help with legal representation at an inquest.

British Columbia legal aid does not cover inquests. But Ontario does, for those who can prove financial need.

In the Yukon, inquests are not covered under the mandate of legal aid.

Nils Clarke, executive director of Yukon Legal Services Society, said they are open to considering the expansion of services in the future.

“However, at this juncture, YLSS has been chronically underfunded for many years in relation to its core areas of coverage. YLSS has lobbied for many years to address this vital access to justice issue. We perceive that we have made some headway in having a reasonable level of core funding confirmed for the upcoming fiscal year,” Clarke said in a statement.

“However, YLSS will not likely know of the decision of our territorial government until the spring sitting of the legislature. If a reasonable and sustainable level of core funding is not supported, then all current legal aid services will have to be reviewed.”

Stick said she would support expanding legal aid’s coverage. She pointed out that, since Scheunert’s family is from Alberta, it is unlikely they would qualify for legal aid in the Yukon.

Potvin said he wishes the families the best of luck.

“It’s really not that hard a process, it’s just a tedious process.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members of the RCMP’s traffic services team examine police markers on Range Road after a six-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle near the Takhini Arena in Whitehorse on Oct. 25. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Six-year-old hit by vehicle near Takhini Arena

Police were called to the scene around 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 25

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. Two new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Watson Lake over the weekend. The cases are connected to three others in the community previously announced by officials on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Two additional COVID-19 cases in Watson Lake bring total up to five

Individuals with symptoms and connections to the three other cases were tested over the weekend

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

Teagan Wiebe, left, and Amie Wiebe pose for a photo with props during The Guild’s haunted house dress rehearsal on Oct. 23. The Heart of Riverdale Community Centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31, with this year’s theme being a plague. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Plague-themed haunted house to take over Heart of Riverdale for Halloween

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre… Continue reading

Indigenous lobster boats head from the harbour in Saulnierville, N.S. on Oct. 21. Elected officials in the Yukon, including all 19 members of the legislature, are backing the right of Mi’kmaq fishers on the East Coast to launch a moderate livelihood fishery. (Andrew Vaughan/CP)
Yukon legislature passes motion to support Mi’kmaw fishery

“It’s not easy, but it’s also necessary for us to have these very difficult conversations”

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading

Most Read