3D Scales of Justice

I’m not in the excuse making business, but I do like to impart information that can give people an opportunity to form and educated opinion.

After reading CBC news reporter Ryan Hicks analysis of the Brian Sinclair (45) inquest, it occurs to me it’s doubtful anyone will shine the light on the back story.  Not so surprising, the focus of Hicks article centered on the inescapable issue of alleged racism and prejudice in Manitoba’s Health Care System.

Sinclair was the homeless, wheelchair-bound, Aboriginal man who was found dead in the emergency waiting room at the Health Sciences Center Hospital some thirty-four (34) hours after he arrived.

“It’s all to do with racists,” Sinclair’s sister Esther Grant told reporters covering the inquest.

Manitoba’s Chief Medical Examiner Dr Thambirajah Balachandra told the inquest it was his belief that issues with the triage system were to blame for the tragic circumstances surrounding Sinclair’s death.  “Even if Snow White had gone there, she would have got the same treatment under the same circumstances,” he testified.

Dr Marc Del Bigio, a neuropathologist who conducted examinations on Sinclair’s brain and spinal cord, stirred controversy when he penned an email indicating, “We should not lose sight of the fact that this man’s problems were self-inflicted.”  Dr Del Bigio went on to explain that decades of solvent & inhalant abuse were major contributory factors in Sinclair’s death and that societal blame should only go so far.

Kathy Mallet, co-director of the Community Education Development Association, an Aboriginal advocate for over thirty (30) years, believes Del Bigio’s “blame the victim mentality” symbolizes the underlying prejudice experienced by Aboriginal patients.  “Addiction is a symptom of a problem,” she said.  “A much deeper, deeper problem.”

She went on to raise the issue of the impacts of the colonization process on the Aboriginal people and her belief Dr Del Bigio lacked awareness and as a result,  oversimplified the situation.

Hicks concludes his story questioning how much a factor prejudice and racism in Manitoba’s health care system played in this case, indicating the issue will have to be addressed by presiding Judge Tim Preston.

So where does the truth lie?

Would Snow White have died in that ER room as Dr Balachandra suggests, or was racism and prejudice a primary cause as Sinclair’s sister Esther Grant and Aboriginal advocate Kathy Mallet want you to believe?

I’m not an expert on Health Care in Manitoba but I have spent literally hundreds of hours in the Health Sciences Center Emergency Department as a front line Patrol Officer working the Downtown beat.  Trips to “HSC Emerg” form part of the daily routine of most Division #11 Patrol Officers who work the mean streets in the heart of the City.

Beatings, Stabbings, Attempt Murders, Murders and Mental Health calls almost always require a trip to 820 Sherbrook Street.  Those trips require seemingly endless hours of downtime with both victims and suspects as they go through the process; triage – treatment – discharge or admittance.

When I try to describe the experience I frequently draw a correlation between the HSC Emergency Department and the chaos and intensity of a Korean MASH Unit.  Scores of injured people suffering from a variety of injuries that often include stab wounds, lacerations, broken noses, head trauma, the occasional gun shot wound and more.

However, unlike a Korean MASH Unit, the victims of these injuries often present a special challenge in that the majority of them are found to be intoxicated or high on some type of street drug (s), a factor that complicates treatment and places a drain on Hospital resources.

I’ve also seen dozens of “frequent flyers” sitting in the ER, sleeping off the lingering effects that come with the chronic abuse of alcohol or drugs.  People looking for a safe, warm place to sober up or waiting to catch a ride to the detoxification center at the Main Street Project.

(Because of this reality, it’s not all that difficult for me to imagine how someone who appeared to be sleeping in the HSC Emergency Department could be overlooked.)

What I saw at the HSC during the years of my Police Career was a professional, ethnically diverse staff, that included representation from the Aboriginal Community, desperately trying to do the best job they could in the face of the great challenges that come with serving the medical needs of citizens who reside in the violent crime capital of Canada.

Doctors and Nurses who worked exceedingly long hours and who undoubtedly suffered from varying degrees of sleep deprivation as they endured the rigours that come with working shift work.  Over burdened people working in an industry that places increasing demands on its employees in the “do more with less” era of bureaucratic philosophies.

I also saw Aboriginal people receiving extraordinary care and compassion from Doctors and Nurses at the HSC and question the notion racism contributed to the unfortunate death of Mr Sinclair.

As tempting as it might be for Grant and Mallet to play the “race card,” such a conclusion comes with inherent risk.  Once that conclusion is drawn, the doors to all other possibilities are closed.

Did Brian Sinclair die because of prejudice and racism inherent in Manitoba’s Health Care System or is it more likely that he fell victim to an overburdened, “do more with less” bureaucracy that lacked the proper protocols to ensure patients don’t fall through the cracks in a chaotic Emergency Department?

In a perfect storm, reminiscent of the Phoenix Sinclair travesty, the death of Brian Sinclair has many moving parts and involves a laundry list of players and social agencies that may be found culpable to some degree.

Snow White, Aboriginal or not, people shouldn’t die in Hospital Emergency Rooms.

I hope Judge Preston can ferret out the truth and point the finger in the right direction.


CBC NEWS – RYAN HICKS – Analysis Sinclair Inquest Meets Racism and Prejudice Head On


  1. James G Jewell

    I’ve seen many similar comments in local print media.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts….

  2. “Colonialism” is used so haphazardly these days by the aboriginal community in either excuse-making and the blame game. Amazing how Brian Sinclair’s family was absent for him when he was alive, but came out of the woodwork following his death/media attention. I suppose this selfish behaviour on their part is due to “colonialism” as well!

    Great post, thanks for your perspective.

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