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Parents can’t sue on behalf of dead woman over RCMP inaction, government argues

Mark Surakka and Rosemarie Surakka, parents of homicide victim Lisa Dudley, speaks to media outside the New Westminster Courthouse after the guilty plea and sentencing hearing of Jack Woodruff in New Westminster, British Columbia, Monday, March 19, 2012. Jack Woodruff has pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Lisa Dudley and Guthrie McKay.

Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

About 20 minutes after Lisa Dudley was shot twice in the neck while sitting in the kitchen of her Mission, B.C., home, RCMP constables responding to 911 calls pulled up by the house, but did not go in to check on Ms. Dudley or talk to the neighbour who had called police.

The neighbour told the RCMP dispatcher he had heard what sounded like six gunshots in a row, prompting a dispatch to officers that mentioned the shots and noted that the neighbour was pretty sure that the noise was shots – "not firecrackers."

However, the officers drove to the scene and left without checking the house, leaving a paralyzed Ms. Dudley where she sat. Her partner, Guthrie McKay, had also been hit, but was dead on the floor.

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Four days later, a curious neighbour entered the house and found Ms. Dudley alive. Within hours, she died in hospital of cardiac arrest. She was 37.

The 2008 tragedy is the focus of a hearing in B.C. Supreme Court this week as the lawyer for Ms. Dudley's parents legally jousts with a lawyer representing the B.C. and federal governments over the parents' right to sue for damages, alleging the RCMP violated Ms. Dudley's right to life contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On Wednesday, a government lawyer said Ms. Dudley had no rights because she is dead, making explicit an argument laid out in the government's response to the civil claim.

"If a victim has a right of action, it cannot be continued after they are dead," David Quan told the court.

He said it may seem unfair, but it has been part of common law for years.

The government says Ms. Dudley's rights are not actionable by anyone else, and that her rights died with her.

The government also denies that the police had anything to do with Ms. Dudley's death.

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For two days, the issue will be argued in court as part of a proceeding that will determine whether the general lawsuit can go ahead. The government has applied to strike down the suit.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes, who is hearing the arguments, is likely to reserve her decision, eventually producing a ruling that either side could appeal en route to a full-fledged trial in court.

"This isn't about the money," Ms. Dudley's mother, Rosemary Surakka, said Wednesday during a break in the hearing. "This is about a terrible wrong that was done here." She said that had police acted professionally, thereby honouring her daughter's rights, she would not have died.

"Somebody has to do something here, and I'm her mom. We have to do this."

Ms. Dudley's father, Mark Surakka, said he found the federal argument "disconcerting" to hear.

"When a person is alive, they do have constitutional rights and suddenly, regardless of the circumstances of their death, it's gone. It's just dismissed. That for us is a difficult thing to adjust to here," he said. "How can it be a closed door?"

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The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team concluded the couple were the victims of a targeted hit. Police arrested three suspects in 2011. One of the men pleaded guilty last March to two charges of first-degree murder, and was handed a 25-year life sentence. The court heard that Ms. Dudley was the target of a hit based on her involvement in grow ops.

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More


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