The long-awaited public coroner’s inquiry into the dozens of deaths at the Herron and other Quebec seniors’ residences was scheduled to begin Monday, but before a witness could be called, lawyers representing Herron management asked for a delay.
They argued that because Quebec Crown prosecutors are still considering laying criminal charges against Herron managers, the coroner’s hearings should be put on hold.
Lawyers representing families of those who died at Herron and lawyers representing media companies argued the inquest should continue immediately and publicly.
“On behalf of the Coroner’s Office, I would like to offer my most sincere condolences to the mourning families, and thank them for their collaboration,” coroner Géhane Kamel said in her opening statement.
In June 2020, Quebec’s top coroner announced Kamel would preside over the public hearing into COVID-19 deaths at Herron and a number of other Quebec seniors’ homes.
During her opening remarks, Kamel spoke about how during the first wave, 47 people died at Herron, and how more than half of Quebec’s COVID-19 deaths had come at CHSLDs.
“I must question everything everything linked to these deaths, including state and administrative structures that are supposed to protect residents of seniors homes,” she said.
“This is the first very public proceeding in which we will really be able to ask the key decision makers the questions and to really shed some factual light about what went on,” said Patrick Martin-Ménard, a lawyer representing family members of people who died at Herron.
The list of witnesses slated to testify on the first day of the hearing included a Montreal police officer and Montreal’s director of public health. Before any of that could happen, Nadine Touma, the lawyer representing Samantha Choweiri and Andrei Stanica of Herron parent company Groupe Katasa, asked for the inquest to be delayed.
Quebec Crown prosecutors are still analyzing evidence, and may still lay criminal charges on Herron management.
Touma argued that the public inquiry could affect Stanica and Choweiri’s right to a fair trial down the line. She said if the hearing does move forward, it should do so under a publication ban.
“The families have been waiting for a long time for answers. This is a crucial step in them getting these answers. If the proceeding is postponed or if there is a publication ban, it will cause a strong prejudice for these families,” said Martin-Ménard.
Lawyers representing media companies also argued against a delay or publication ban.
Marc-André Nadon called Touma’s concerns “hypothetical,” and argued controversial figures like Luka Magnotta and Richard Henry Bain had fair trials even though their cases were highly mediatized. He said the public hearing could even end up being beneficial to Herron management, giving them an opportunity to speak publicly about the constraints they faced.
Though the coroner said she would have liked to announce her decision Monday, she chose to take some extra time to analyze what was said by both sides.
She will announce her decision on the request for a delay and publication ban Tuesday morning.