As seen on Global News by Rumina Daya, Aaron McArthur & Jon Azpiri on August 10, 2021.
WARNING: Some readers may find details in this story disturbing.
Star Joinson remembers her 23-month-old daughter Ocean as a vibrant toddler who was enchanted by the beach.
“I miss her,” she said. “I miss waking up to her giggles. I miss her silly antics.”
Ocean was excited to pick her mom up after work on July 6. She was in her father’s arms, waiting to cross the street at the corner of Hornby and Smithe streets in downtown Vancouver.
“These two black vehicles come smashing into each other really quickly,” Star recalled.
Star watched helplessly as one of the vehicles went flying in the direction of her family.
“The car went under and the [vehicle] lifted, and the [vehicle] flipped … two or three times and then hit Michael and my daughter,” she said. “I started screaming, ‘My baby, my baby, my partner!’
“I knew she was dead. There was nothing I could do.”
Ocean’s father, Michael, was on the ground, bleeding and gasping for air.
“I said, ‘Please, I need you,’” Star recalled. “Finally, he tried to sit up and I had to pin him to the ground and tell him to stop moving because when shock kicks in you can’t feel that you’re broken and he was just trying to get to his daughter.”
Michael’s arm and leg are now held together by metal rods. He suffered multiple fractures to his back and clavicle plus broken ribs, a punctured lung, and lacerations to his kidney, spleen, and liver.
The most painful blow, Michael says, is that his little girl is gone.
“It is our reality that she’s not there,” he said. “She’s not going to be there. We’re not going to see her walking. We’re not going to see her graduate.
“We’re not going to see her achieve her first milestones of actually saying full sentences. None of that is ever going to happen for us, for her. It’s all gone in that instant.”
The police investigation into the deadly crash continues. No charges have been laid.
What is a life worth?
When it comes to wrongful death compensation, a 23-month-old baby is valued differently under the law than her father.
Under new ICBC rules, each parent is entitled to $14,918 for the death of a child. Rules also state they will not be able to sue for more compensation.
“Heartbreaking,” Michael said. “It hurts that somebody can define her as having a number and that number ends up being roughly six times less than the value they would put in for a car.”
Children or dependents without any income are almost non-existent under B.C. civil law. In a wrongful death situation, any compensation is tied solely to future earning potential. In addition, families have little recourse to seek justice. Payments in other jurisdictions tend to be larger once the courts are involved.
“They value human life quite a bit differently in other jurisdictions,” Michael-James Pennie of the BC Wrongful Death Law Reform Society said.
“In Ontario, the courts have seen that top number at about $125,000 per surviving family member.”
The ICBC payment of just under $15,000 to each of Ocean’s parents is actually an improvement over the old system.
But advocates say such compensation is still woefully inadequate.
“These new changes with ICBC are just a total slap in the face to the dignity and value of the individual in this province,” Pennie said.
In a statement, the provincial government said B.C.’s Family Compensation Act will be addressed this term, adding that If a driver is convicted of a criminal charge, a victim’s options to sue are expanded.
Personal injury lawyer John Green says this is more than just a question of direct costs.
“It tears apart families — injuries and deaths from car crashes — and now he can’t sue anyone for that,” he said.
A GoFundMe campaign launched by a friend to support Ocean’s parents has raised more than $77,000 as of Tuesday night.
No amount of money can make up for the loss of a child, but by denying victims the ability to seek justice, payments can further traumatize people who have already suffered an unbearable loss.
“Those vehicles that were damaged, they can be fixed, they can be replaced,” Star said. “My daughter can’t be.”
“You’re basically saying a person’s life is valued less than a material item, and I don’t understand that.”
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 Attorney General of British Columbia, David Eby, is the Minister responsible for the ‘Family Compensation Act’ – the guiding piece of legislation that the civil courts must follow in cases of wrongful death. Minister Eby receives feedback from the regional ‘Members of the Legislative Assembly’ (MLAs) and follows orders from the Premier, John Horgan.
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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