TORONTO (Oct 24, 2007)

The Chief Coroner of Ontario Dr. Bonnie Porter has stopped a long-awaited inquest into the death of a Burlington teenager who overdosed on antipsychotic medication four years ago.

The death of the 15-year-old boy on Aug. 23, 2003, had been the subject of an 11-month investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU), which probes deaths, serious injuries and sexual assaults involving police, and is currently being reviewed by the office of the Ontario Ombudsman.

The inquest was scheduled to start Monday in Hamilton before regional coroner Dr. David Evans.

But Porter stepped in and stopped the proceedings.

"The matter is not going ahead at this time," Brian Fukuzawa, a lawyer for the chief coroner, said yesterday.

He said Porter is expected to issue a statement next week outlining her reasons for cancelling the inquest.

The boy's mother, who doesn't want her son identified, had suggested in previous court appearances that he had died in police custody. Under the Ontario Coroner's Act, this would have made an inquest mandatory.

On the day of his death, somebody called the 911 emergency number from the boy's north Burlington home saying he was assaulting his mother and sister. Halton police knew the address as they'd received at least one other call from the home before. The boy was under psychiatric care at the time and taking an antipsychotic drug called Seroquel at the time. The drug is often prescribed for persons suffering from bipolar disorder.

He told his mother that he'd ingested the entire bottle of the medication consisting of 90 pills. But when police asked him about the pills, he claimed he was trying to shock his mother and hadn't actually ingested any pills.

He appeared to be acting normally when police took him to the Burlington station and lodged him in a holding cell in the early hours of Aug. 23, 2003. But after a few hours, police noticed he was getting groggy and was having trouble standing up. He was then released to his mother, who decided to take him to Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital.

Paul Stunt, an Oakville lawyer representing the Halton police union, said officers from the Burlington station offered to drive the boy to the hospital as a "courtesy" to the mother. They dropped him off with his mother at the hospital, where he died eight hours later.

Stunt has argued an inquest wasn't mandatory because the boy was no longer in police custody when he died.

He said the case has weighed heavily on the police officers who were subject to an SIU investigation and "allegations and insinuations" they had contributed to the death of the teenager.

"Our view all along is that this was unnecessary," Stunt said of the inquest. He added the SIU, which normally tries to complete an investigation in less than 30 days, spent 11 months probing the conduct of several Halton police officers, including three who have since retired.

SIU investigator Jon Ansell said his agency concluded there was no basis for criminal charges against any Halton police officers.

The probe into the boy's death is among a number of cases being reviewed by Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin, The Spectator has confirmed.

In a press release earlier this year, Marin announced a special team from his office would be reinvestigating cases that had sparked public complaints against the SIU. They included allegations the civilian agency was pro police and lacked objectivity, wasn't thorough enough and failed to provide information to victims and families.

Marin said he received 20 complaints about the SIU. Many of the people complaining were represented by Toronto lawyer Julian Falconer, who had represented the Burlington teenager's mother before she fired him earlier this year. She no longer had a lawyer when the inquest was set to start this week.