An application to stay a coroner’s inquest, pending determination of judicial review of coroner’s refusal to expand scope of inquest or grant leave for certain witness to be called, was dismissed

Administrative law – Decisions of administrative tribunals – Coroner’s inquest – Judicial review – Stay of proceedings

Ontario (Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth) v. Anderson Inquest (Coroner of), [2011] O.J. No. 2521, 2011 ONSC 3354, Ontario Superior Court of Justice, June 3, 2011, Lederer J.

Diane Anderson and two of her children died in December 2007 in a fire in their home. The apartment in which they lived was owned and operated by the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. The fire was determined to have been caused by Ms. Anderson’s sons. Smoke alarms had been disconnected and Ms. Anderson had been asleep at the time of the fire. An inquest was conducted to determine the cause of the fire and how it might have been prevented. The Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth (the “Provincial Advocate”) and Ms. Anderson’s sister and daughter (the “Family”) sought to expand the scope of the inquest to examine the services provided to Ms. Anderson and her family by a variety of agencies and interest groups. The coroner refused to grant the motion on the basis that an inquest is a focused inquiry into a death or deaths and it is not a Royal commission or a public platform.

The Provincial Advocate and the Family each commenced a judicial review with respect to the decision of the coroner. The parties all agreed that the three prong test to be applied in determining whether a stay should be granted was found in Supreme Court of Canada decision RJR MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), [1994] S.C.J. No. 17.

Regarding the first prong test of the MacDonald, supra, test, whether the judicial review application raised a serious question, the Court held that it is only in circumstances where an error undermines the entire proceeding that judicial review will be granted in advance of, or during the course of, an administrative proceeding. In this case, the Court found that the judicial review did not raise a serious issue. The Court found that the evidence the Provincial Advocate sought to introduce, which essentially broadened the scope of the inquest, did not affect the five principal questions that had to be answered by the jury pursuant to s. 31 of the Coroner’s Act.

Regarding the second prong of the MacDonald, supra, test, whether irreparable harm would have resulted if the stay of proceedings was denied, the Court found that because the principal issue for the Provincial Advocate was the breadth of the recommendation and for the Family, its failure to convince the coroner in respect of certain procedural points that would have allowed it to recall a witness and continue the cross examination of another, neither of these would have resulted in irreparable harm.

Regarding the third prong of the MacDonald, supra, test, whether the balance of convenience favoured the granting of the stay of proceedings, the Court found that the balance of convenience did not favour the granting of the stay as the inquest was nearly complete.

The application was dismissed.

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