'Disappointing': Judge halts fatality inquiry into death of nursing student killed by mother

No fatality inquiry will be held to investigate the circumstances that led an Edmonton mother to stab her 21-year-old daughter to death.An Edmonton judge ruled late last month that the fatality inquiry should be stayed because it wasn't the right avenue to seek answers about why the young woman was killed by her mother, Christine Longridge, who was in a delusional psychotic state at the time."All of these lines of inquiry lead directly into areas where the court cannot go, and the frustration of starting down these roads only to be turned back serves no one," provincial court Judge Larry Anderson concluded.The decision comes as a blow to the family, who had hoped the inquiry would provide clarity about the medical care Longridge received in the weeks leading up to her attack on her daughter, Rachael."It's just remained this very painful mystery," Longridge's lawyer, Jacqueline Petrie, said in an interview Tuesday. "She hasn't really been able to get answers from not only her long-term treating psychiatrist but the doctors at Alberta Hospital." Not criminally responsibleThe decision to stay the fatality inquiry was "profoundly disappointing" to Longridge, Petrie said.In December 2016, Longridge attacked her daughter, stabbing her multiple times. First diagnosed with a mental disorder in the 1990s, she had been hospitalized about five weeks before the killing. Though her health deteriorated, she was sent home with a prescription for about half of her normal dosage of lithium.A court later found the mother was in a delusional psychotic state at the time of the attack in late December. She was found not criminally responsible for her daughter's death by reason of mental disorder in February 2018, and has since been under the supervision of the Alberta Review Board, which has authority to make decisions about detention and treatment.Longridge, who is in her 50s, remains a patient at Alberta Hospital, her lawyer said. Her condition has stabilized, and she's doing well, but questions about her medical treatment in November 2016 haunt her, Petrie said."There may very well be very good reasons for some of the medical decisions that were made," Petrie said. "They seem odd. They seem peculiar. But that doesn't mean they are. It's just that we can't, and have never been able to, get answers on them."'A travesty of our mental health system'In some cases, such as the deaths of children in foster care or inmates in a jail, a public fatality inquiry is automatic. At an inquiry, evidence is entered and witnesses are questioned, but the judge who presides cannot assign blame but can make recommendations for changes to help prevent similar deaths.Rachael's death did not trigger an automatic inquiry, but one was requested by a member of the public who believed the family had been let down by officials who could have intervened, calling it a "travesty of our mental health system."After considering the request, Alberta's Fatality Review Board recommended that an inquiry be held to "restore public confidence; prevent similar deaths, clarify circumstances around mental health and community support."The wrong road to go downBut at a pre-inquiry conference, the provincial lawyer assigned to run inquiry, and lawyers for Alberta Health Services and Longridge's longtime treating psychiatrist all questioned whether an inquiry would turn up anything that hadn't already been examined during the criminal trial, according to Anderson's decision. In an email Tuesday, the psychiatrist's lawyer clarified that his client did not oppose the inquiry, though they do agree with the reasons for the stay. In his decision, Anderson found it would be a "stretch" to tie Longridge's mid-November treatment in hospital to her daughter's death several weeks later. While the questions raised by Petrie are valid, the judge said, he wasn't "persuaded" they could be answered through an inquiry. He said there are other legal avenues to deal with questions of whether something went awry with Longridge's medical care.But Petrie said it would be "almost impossible" for her client to file a malpractice suit. "That's easy to say, it's very, very hard to do," Petrie said. "Christine — that's never been her motivation, it's never been her family's motivation. And she, in particular, is a person of very limited means."The only other option is to appeal of Anderson's decision and ask for a judicial review, which Petrie said she and her client are considering. In an emailed statement, an Alberta Health Services spokesperson said the health authority supported the position that an inquiry wouldn't turn up anything that the criminal proceeding hadn't. The spokesperson said AHS has completed an internal review in connection to the case, but did not respond to questions about the findings of that review.

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