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Public access arguments held for Kinew James case

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WATCH ABOVE: Before the inquest process even begins, lawyers in the Kinew James case gathered to argue access to certain documents. Meaghan Craig details the concerns expressed by interested parties – Jan 12, 2016

SASKATOON – In 2013, Kinew James was found unresponsive and alone in her cell at the Regional Psychiatric Centre. She was rushed to Royal University Hospital where she was pronounced dead after having an apparent heart attack.

Since that time, there have been allegations made by other prisoners who say they repeatedly pressed emergency call buttons as James lay there in distress, calls they say went unanswered for up to an hour.

Kinew, who was at the tail end of her sentence, entered the corrections system when she was 18 beginning in March 1988. She was serving a sentence of 15 years, four months and 29 days for manslaughter, assault, uttering threats, arson, mischief and obstruction of justice.

READ MORE: Canada’s sickest inmates are locked in its deadliest prisons

An inquest into her death, a standard procedure when a person dies in custody is now set for April 25 to 29 at Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatoon.

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The big question now is what and when the public will be allowed to know about the case even before the inquest begins. On Tuesday, arguments between four different legal counsel were held before a judge that will have to determine just that.

“We’re seeking to maintain the open nature of the court and the ability of the public to access the proceedings and the documents,” said Russell Hart, a partner at Gerrand Rath Johnson.

One document at the centre of it all, a summary document provided in trust known as a Board Of Investigation (BOI) report. The document has not been seen by Hart, who is representing several media outlets, or the judge that presided over the court proceedings Tuesday.

It’s exactly the way legal counsel for the office of the chief coroner would like things to remain and has asked that the report be sealed otherwise it could compromise the integrity of the inquest process in it’s entirety.

“The report itself is not an account of the actual witnesses to the incident, it’s an accounting of three people who prepared a report so it’s not a direct account and includes opinion and recommendations and we wouldn’t want to influence the jury as part of this process,” said Charita Ohashi.

A tainted jury is a legitimate concern according to Hart, and one that will need to be weighed by the judge to determine a fair balance.

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“At the same time as perhaps sacrificing our ability to hear what’s going on in court and the main point for the media and for I think the public interest is to maintain that ability to get into court, hear what’s happening, be able to see and hear and protect that very important feature of democracy.”

The judge’s decision on this matter is expected by the end of the week.

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