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23rd of October 2018

Canada



'Raw emotion' expected from families this week at Elizabeth Wettlaufer inquiry | CBC News

One of the people Elizabeth Wettlaufer tried to kill, as well as the family members and friends of those she did murder, will share the impact the former nurse's crimes had on their lives at Ontario's public inquiry into long-term care on Monday.

The testimony will cap the four-month public portion of the inquiry into the safety and security of residents in long-term care, which was called after Wettlaufer confessed to killing eight people and harming six others while working in nursing homes in southwestern Ontario from 2007 to 2016.

Wettlaufer pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to life in prison.

This week will be the first time those directly affected by Wettlaufer's crimes will get to speak at the inquiry, which began in June and is taking place in St. Thomas, Ont.

"I expect it's going to be very emotional. I don't think that, for my clients, listening to 37 days of testimony has reduced the emotion of this. I expect the emotions will be very heartfelt and very on point," lawyer Paul Scott told CBC News.

Scott represents some of the loved ones of Wettlaufer's victims, as well as Beverly Bertram, who was receiving home care in Ingersoll, Ont., in 2016 when Wettlaufer tried to kill the then-68-year-old by injecting her with insulin stolen from another patient. Bertram is expected to address the inquiry on Monday.

Elizabeth Wettlaufer is escorted by police from the courthouse in Woodstock, Ont, on June 26, 2017, the day she was sentenced to life in prison for murdering eight seniors in her care. (Dave Chidley/Canadian Press)

Lawyer Alex Van Kralingen, who represents another group of family members of Wettlaufer's victims, said he expects emotions to be "very high and very raw."

"There's a sense of frustration about some of the evidence from some of the witnesses, and it's showed large, broad-based systemic failures. Some of the parties are trying to push the blame on others and I think that particular frustration will come out and there will be raw emotions," Van Kralingen said.

Hearing pain of loved ones important

The public inquiry has heard from dozens of witnesses and has focused the spotlight on facilities that are understaffed, with nurses who are overworked, and who are dealing with residents who have complex care needs.

Wettlaufer worked in such facilities. The inquiry has heard that she was, by many accounts, a lazy nurse who made frequent errors, but was allowed to continue working, at least in part, because it's difficult to recruit and retain registered nurses.

Court processes such as the inquiry can be devoid of feelings, but it's important to hear from those directly impacted by Wettlaufer's crimes, Van Kralingen said.

"There is somebody at the end of every data point that the Ministry of Health gets. It's a person, lying in a bed, with a family that loves them. And if that person is taken away in a violent manner, as Ms. Wettlaufer did, it is going to have a profound impact on the people who loved that person in that long-term care home. And we can't properly address the issues unless we properly understand their pain," he said.

"Capturing the amount of pain these people have gone through is not going to be easy," he said. "But I actually think it's very important to have those emotions … be shown to all Ontarians if they're going to understand the stakes and the significance of the issue."

'We need to open people's eyes'

Susan Horvath, whose father was killed by Wettlaufer when he was a resident of Meadow Park Long-Term Care in London, Ont., said she will talk about the toll her father's death — and the subsequent murder investigation — have taken on her.

"I have turned into a very angry person because of the system, and what I'm hearing and what I've heard at the inquiry. It's made me sickened," Horvath said.

"At the same time, I want people to know that there are good nurses out there and good [personal support workers], and they're victims, too, of the system. The system created a nurse like [Wettlaufer]. They're short-staffed, they're overworked, there are budget cuts, and she had to work through all that. And she snapped."

Justice Eileen Gillese will have until July 2019 to make recommendations into the circumstances and systemic issues that allowed Wettlaufer to kill eight people in her care, as well as harm another six. (Wadham College/Twitter)

Horvath said it's very important for the victims' family members to address the inquiry.

"We need to make the point, to open people's eyes, to let people know that these nursing homes are a business, there to make money. It becomes a nightmare," she said.

Each of the lawyers who presented evidence at the inquiry, led by Commissioner Eileen Gillese, will also make closing arguments and provide recommendations to prevent similar crimes from taking place. The inquiry will have until the end of July 2019 to make recommendations to improve Ontario's long-term care and the systems that govern it.

"This is where the rubber will hit the road. We have a number of public inquiries that have led to reports and recommendations which, for whatever reason, have not moved the government in any way, and have instead sat on a shelf collecting dust," Van Kralingen said.

"Given the number of people in long-term care, given the [outreach] from the public, I think that would be an unwise move for this government. I think they need to listen very closely and heed whatever recommendations Justice Gillese ultimately puts out."

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