Police to probe death of resident of old age home
February 21, 2012 | Jewish Tribune
TORONTO – The Major Crimes Unit of the Winnipeg Police Service has opened an investigation into the 2010 death of Lilyan Peck following crown intervention in a private criminal court case.Toronto-based lawyer Harvey Berkal had initiated private criminal charges last year against The Sharon Home Inc., which operates the Simkin Centre Personal Care Home in Winnipeg, where Peck lived until two weeks before her death.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, a private citizen may begin a criminal prosecution if he feels that government authorities have failed. The charges laid by Berkal in the matter of Peck’s death included allegations of criminal negligence causing death and criminal negligence causing bodily harm.
The first court appearance was on Nov. 7, at which time the case was adjourned to give time for the crown attorney to review the file.
Colleen McDuff, supervising senior crown, domestic violence unit, Manitoba Prosecutions Service, told the Jewish Tribune, “The crown has the authority to intervene in a private prosecution if we feel there’s no reasonable expectation of a conviction. After reviewing everything, it became clear that, for the purposes of a criminal prosecution, there was not sufficient evidence to find there was a reasonable likelihood of conviction.” Therefore, “the crown attended court and indicated we were intervening and withdrawing the case pending further investigation.”
At that point, McDuff said, it was up to Berkal to ask police to investigate. She said she did him a favour and passed her copy of the files pertaining to the case on to the Winnipeg Police Service but this led to a “misunderstanding” on Berkal’s part. This misunderstanding was played out on the internet.
Berkal issued a press release on Feb. 13 that said the crown had “referred the case to the Winnipeg Police Homicide Division.”
He also quoted a portion of an email from McDuff, which he said supported his claim.
The email snippet was published without her permission and used in a way that was misleading, McDuff said.
“As the crown, we don’t initiate investigations,” she explained. “The crown was not making a referral to police to investigate the matter and I think that’s where there’s been a bit of a miscommunication.”
Berkal told the Tribune that he and his sister, Harriet Berkal, had been in touch with the Major Crimes Unit and were told by police that “they’re looking into the matter.”
Terry Kolbuck, public information assistant, Winnipeg Police Service, told the Tribune, “Our Major Crimes Unit has received the file; they’re investigating.”
When asked to clarify whether the unit had actually opened a case file or if it was making inquiries before deciding whether to take on the case, Kolbuck replied, “I don’t know the process.”
Berkal said he was disappointed that his private criminal case was halted.
“I believe there would have been sufficient evidence for a private prosecution to go ahead if they had allowed the hearing before the Justice of the Peace to proceed.”
He said the witnesses he intended to call would have “allowed evidence to come forth in a public forum.”