Grouped inquest into five deaths following interactions with Winnipeg police to go ahead; one inquest severed

By Morgan Modjeski

A Winnipeg family whose loved one was killed following an interaction with city police is pleased an inquest into his death will not be grouped together with the deaths of five others following their own interactions with law enforcement.

Earlier this week, a hearing was held at Manitoba provincial court to discuss an inquest into the deaths of Patrick Gagnon, Michael Bagot, Sean Thompson, Matthew Fosseneuve, Randy Cochrane and Viengxay Chommany.

Over the course of roughly a year, all six men died in separate incidents after dealing with members of the Winnipeg Police Service.

BACKGROUND: Families want separate inquests into six men who died following interactions with Winnipeg police

On Monday Judge Lindy Choy found Chommany’s death should be examined separately, due to the fact he was not under the influence of any intoxicants during his police interaction. His family welcomed the ruling.

“The family believes that the tragedy of Viengxay’s death will, through the inquest process, result in positive changes to the way Winnipeg police interact with individuals dealing with a mental health crisis,” the family said in a statement.

Four of the six deaths were ordered to be examined by the Chief Medical Officer together and at a later date. Two more of the deaths – Chommany’s and Cochrane’s – were added at the suggestion of Manitoba’s Chief Judge of Provincial Court.

Members of Cochrane’s family also asked Judge Choy to separate their loved one’s inquest. Their legal counsel Melissa Serbin argued Cochrane’s inquest should be separated because of jurisdictional questions and time, but also for the family’s benefit.

“The idea of joining it is essentially saying to the Cochrane family that the inquest into the death of their son under tragic circumstances is simply not important enough to be heard alone,” said Serbin.

“I would suggest that is not the message that the court wants to send to families whose children died at the hands of police, or in police interactions, and that’s not the message that we should be sending to the Cochrane family.”

From August 2021: Winnipeg families concerned six deaths could be grouped into one inquest

WPS also asked for separate inquests

Legal Counsel for the WPS Kimberly Carswell asked the judge to consider separating all of the inquests, due to the fact there is “significant difference” between them in terms of police use of force and differing substances.

“Although it’s not necessarily the interest of the police service, certainly we take the position that the families of these individuals have the right to feel that their matters have been duly considered,” Carswell said in court. “I’m not sure how we achieve that when we combine them together and they don’t have a hearing of their own loved one’s loss.”

Judge Choy will now send a formal letter to the Chief Medical Officer to ask for the Chommany inquest to be separated out from the other six, with Cochrane’s now officially grouped with the others.

Each death will be examined: inquest council

Case management on the matter continues and dates are not yet set.

Inquest council Mark Lafreniere says while it’s been recommended the inquests be grouped, he says each matter will still be given its deserved focus and attention.

“Each death is a tragedy that will be examined,” he said. “That’s the entire purpose of the inquest and I can confirm on the record that in terms of the perspective of the inquest council, we do intend, and we are going to call, the entire factual foundation of each individual inquest on its own.”

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