Elizabeth Wettlaufer: Public inquiry will be limited by money

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For families whose loved ones were killed by ex-nurse Elizabeth Wettlaufer, their chance to take part in a public inquiry will be limited not by law but by money.

That’s the reality a week before a commission considers applications by 29 people and 15 groups to play a role in the inquiry into Wettlaufer’s seven-year killing spree at two Southwestern Ontario nursing homes, says a lawyer hired by at least four family members.

“We have to be somewhat selective because of the cost of the process,” said Nigel Gilby, a lawyer in London with Lerners. “That’s always the problem.”

Families who play a role in a public inquiry can seek funding from the Attorney General of Ontario, but that funding is limited far below the actual costs of paying a lawyer, Gilby said.

The province pays up to $190 an hour for a senior counsel, but the going hourly rate ranges between $500 and $750. Hearing participants also approved for public funding cannot be charged more by their lawyers than what the province pays.

That means lawyers who represent families have to be selective about how they represent their clients in a way government agencies and large corporations do not — the latter aren’t seeking compensation, according to the Long-Term Care Public Inquiry, which lists all the applicants at its website.

Those applicants include the families of victims, the corporate parents of three nursing homes in which Wettlaufer inflicted most of her harm, associations that represent health professionals and nursing homes, the professional college that regulates nurses and advocates for elderly and the disadvantaged.

Wettlaufer pleaded guilty last spring to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault — all, involving vulnerable people in her care.

She carried out the murders by insulin injections between 2007 and 2014 at two long-term care homes in the region, Caressant Care in Woodstock and Meadow Park in London.

Wettlaufer was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Her crimes, and how she managed to go so long without them being detected, thrust Ontario’s long-term care system — more than 600 homes, with more than 70,000 residents — and its oversight under a harsh political spotlight, with the province calling the inquiry in the fallout of the court case.

Home care provider St. Elizabeth didn’t apply to take part in the inquiry before a recent deadline, even though Wettlaufer worked for the agency when she tried to kill one person in Ingersoll.

The hearing by those seeking a role in the inquiry — standing, in legal jargon — will be held Dec. 12 and 13 at the Elgin County Courthouse in St. Thomas.

The commission will recommend who gets standing and whether their role will be limited or full, the latter including the right to gain access to documents, examine witnesses, make submissions and get advanced notice of documents or statements to be introduced in evidence.

Ontario’s Attorney General then makes the final call, the decision to be posted on the inquiry’s website.

Next week’s hearing will be administrative, said Gilby, who is sending a junior lawyer to lessen the costs on clients. The real action begins in June, when hearings and documentary evidence may provide answers to key questions that will not only shape the direction of the inquiry but open the door to civil lawsuits.

“How did this happen and how did they let it happen?” Gilby said. “Who knew about what, if anything, and what did they do about it?”

Answers uncovered in an inquiry can’t be used directly in a civil lawsuit, but the answers discovered in an inquiry can guide families of victims to decide if they have a realistic chance of recovering damages for their losses, Gilby said.

Wettlaufer killed seven residents at the Woodstock home before she was fired for repeated medication-related errors, only to go on to work for the London home where her final victim lived.



Who’s seeking standing

  • 29 people, mainly or exclusively the families of victims
  • Corporate owners of three nursing homes where Wettlaufer worked
  • Nursing home companies and associations, Caressant Care, Jarlette Health Services and Revera Long-Term Care Inc.
  • Ontario Long-Term Care Clinicians, Ontario Nurses Association, Ontario Personal Support Workers Association, Ontario Public Service Employees Union and Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario
  • Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition and
  • Ontario Association of Residents’ Councils
  • College of Nurses of Ontario and Ministry of the Attorney General