The Squamish Chief: EDITORIAL: BC wrongful death laws need to change

As seen in The Squamish Chief by The Chief Editorial Staff on January 7th 2021.

The late Natasha Forry

The late Natasha Forry. Courtesy Ann Forry.

B.C’s wrongful death laws are archaic and need an overhaul.

A tragic situation has brought these laws to light locally.

The Family Compensation Act has kept Ann Forry, a former Squamish resident,  from seeking legal recourse in the death of her daughter, Natasha.

Natasha had a staph infection that spread to her lungs. After visiting the hospital four times in 10 days, she died. By Forry’s account, doctors initially thought Natasha had swollen lymph nodes. As her condition became severe, they began to fear she had COVID-19.

However, Forry alleges that they didn’t take into account — until it was too late — that Natasha had recently had a Bartholin’s abscess drained.

An autopsy report suggests that a staph infection from the abscess could’ve spread to her lungs and caused her death.

Forry is blaming Lions Gate Hospital, saying that it was the staff’s negligence that caused her daughter’s death.

She wants to sue, but there’s little she can do.

Under the current law, a lawsuit — if successful — can claim only a tiny amount of cash because Natasha did not have any dependents.

It should be said Forry’s accusations have not been proven out in court, but that isn’t the point.

B.C.’s Family Compensation Act is a surprise to many people who are trying to seek legal recourse in the province.

Unlike other provinces in Canada, B.C. has not updated its wrongful death legislation, which was originally created in 1846.

It was modelled after British law that was intended to help out a family when the main wage-earner died — assuming that person was expected to live longer.

As a result, one could presume that this law was only intended to help the spouse and young children of a breadwinner.

Anyone not fitting this definition is in danger of being sidelined.

It’s quite counterintuitive for many of us who grew up with American TV, where we saw lawsuits doled out like candy. So when those affected by a wrongful death in B.C. try to litigate, they’re often in shock.

Six consultations with lawyers later, Forry is faced with the realization that even if a court ruled in her favour, the law has assigned no value to her daughter, whose life was as valuable as anyone else’s.

This is an outmoded way of thinking.

Wrongful death is a wrongful death, and human life shouldn’t be measured solely by the amount of income one gives to one’s dependents.

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About the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society

‘In Their Name’ is the campaign of ‘The BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society’ – a BC registered non-profit organization comprised of volunteer families who have lost a loved one to wrongful death in BC and were denied access to justice. In response to the biggest human rights issue facing the province today, our goal is to modernize British Columbia’s antiquated wrongful death legislation, which predates confederation (1846). Under current legislation, the value of a human life is measured only by the deceased’s future lost income, so long as they had dependents.

As a result of the province’s antiquated law, access to justice has been denied to the families of the wrongfully killed who do not meet this discriminatory criteria. This has affected especially vulnerable groups, namely children, seniors, the disabled, and anyone without dependents when they are killed by the negligent or intentional acts of another.

BC is presently the last of all the provinces, yet to have undertaken this critical legislative modernization to allow for dignity, value, and protections for all its citizens under the law.

When it’s ‘free’ to kill in BC, wrongdoers are not held accountable. This lack of general deterrence holds the province back in terms of incentivizing innovation of safety measures and protocols to prevent wrongful deaths in the first place.

Here’s How You Can Get Involved…

The Premier of British Columbia, David Eby, is responsible for the modernization of BC’s wrongful death laws. Our Society provided David Eby with the drafted ‘Wrongful Death Accountability Act’ when he was acting as the Attorney General for British Columbia for 6 years between 2017-2022. The new Attorney General, Niki Sharma, also shares responsibility as she is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the current guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Sharma receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, David Eby, who is ultimately responsible for modernization.

Reform is presently at a standstill, as the BC NDP government does not presently view access to justice for the surviving family members of the wrongfully killed as a priority in this province. This is despite the fact that the families behind our Society have been fighting for modernization for over two decades. And despite the fact that all other provinces, including the Yukon, have already modernized in most cases long ago.

The only way to move this forward is by creating massive public awareness and outcry for legislative modernization. Only under the scrutiny of the public and the media will our politicians be forced to take this necessary, and long overdue action.

How many more people will need to die from the same preventable wrongful actions before our politicians will do their job?

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