Vancouver 24 Hours: Wrongful death law questioned after Pickton fund

Originally published in Vancouver 24 Hours by David P. Ball, 23rd March 2014.

blog-featured-1Lawyers are calling on B.C. to reform its wrongful death laws in the wake of a new $50,000 fund established for each child of missing and murdered women, including Robert Pickton’s victims.

While several family members decried the Tuesday announcement as “pennies,” undervaluing their lost loved ones, the figure is the maximum available under the current Family Compensation Act.

It allows children to pursue compensation in court, but restricted to “loss of affection” and financial support their late parent would have provided.

“There needs to be a change in the law to provide access to justice for all individuals,” said lawyer Don Renaud, founder of the Wrongful Death Law Reform Group.

“None of them are entitled to compensation as a result of wrongful death because we’ve got old, inadequate legislation.”

The former Trial Lawyers Association president called for a Wrongful Death Accountability Act allowing courts to determine compensation for family members’ untimely loss.

B.C. is the “worse of a bad lot” across Canada, Renaud said, with Alberta granting $75,000 “off the bat” for a loved one’s death and rising from there. Ontario allows claims for “loss of companionship,” he added, thereby including deceased children or elders.

An unattributed emailed statement from B.C.’s justice ministry said it was undertaking an “active review” of its wrongful death law.

“We are carefully considering the next steps,” said the statement. “There are diverse and opposing views, often strongly held, on all sides of the debate with respect to this area of the law.”

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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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