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Court releases reasons for decision in Coyle sentencing

Updated: Apr 30

Statement on Behalf of a Client

For immediate release: April 29, 2024

Today Justice P. Joubert of the Ontario Court of Justice released his reasons for sentencing in the matter of R. v. Lindsey Coyle. Coyle is a former nurse who was charged with second-degree murder and other offences in connection with the death of Hermina Fletcher in January 2015. Fletcher was a patient at La Verendrye Hospital in Fort Frances.


Coyle, who was not charged until August 1, 2019, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence causing death in August 2022. A sentencing hearing took place in August 2023. On January 16, 2024, Justice Joubert sentenced Coyle to 2 years’ imprisonment. A sentence of 2 years or more is carried out in a federal penitentiary.


In Justice Joubert’s sentencing decision, he found as aggravating factors the breach of trust by Coyle; the impact on the deceased victim and her family, on Coyle’s healthcare colleagues, and the wider community of Fort Frances; and the broader context in which the offence occurred. On these aggravating factors, His Honour's decision includes the following statements:


I find that the breach of trust was threefold: Ms. Coyle breached the trust that her immediate victim, Hermina Fletcher, placed in the professional medical staff at La Verendrye Regional Hospital; Ms. Coyle further breached the trust that society places in professional medical staff to provide appropriate medical care when its members become vulnerable and require nursing care; finally, Ms. Coyle breached the trust that her professional colleagues and the staff and executive at the La Verendrye Regional Hospital necessarily placed in her, that she would faithfully discharge her duties with care and responsibility. ...


I find it also aggravating ... that the person whose life was cut short was by all accounts an integral part of her family and the broader community, a person whom the evidence supports devoted her life to caring for others. That Ms. Fletcher's life was cut short when, according to the medical evidence, she appeared on a path of recovery is also aggravating. ...


[T]he victim impact statements describe the severe impact on Ms. Fletcher's husband who has since passed away without the benefit of any closure in the case. The impact upon other family members also appears to be deep, and lasting. As one author observed, referred to by the Crown in submissions, the criminal negligence in this case has violated the very trust described in the [Florence] Nightingale Pledge.


In considering mitigating factors in support of Coyle, Justice Joubert expressed concern that Coyle provided no explanation as to why she had not availed herself of treatment for her substance abuse, finding that this called into question the extent to which the court could rely on her statements or those who had written letters of support. His Honour's decision indicates that Coyle surrendered her 2016 nursing license rather than attend and complete a residential treatment program to address the issues of her substance dependency. His Honour found that Coyle's conduct in this regard was troubling, writing:


I find the effect of [the] positive attributes of Ms. Coyle's post-offence conduct to be attenuated by the evidence of Ms. Coyle's silence from 2015 to 2019 ... , and by her failure from 2015 to the present to engage in any assessment, counselling, or treatment for the very serious addiction concern that is central in this case.


Justice Joubert also stated that the pattern of Coyle’s misconduct at the hospital was a significant factor in sentencing. He wrote:


I find that the decision-making, actions and neglect by Lindsay Coyle on January 3, 2015, were part of a pattern of behaviour that continued over at least a two-and-a-half-month period. I find the behaviour over that period of time to have been strikingly similar. It involved the repeated falsification by Ms. Coyle of medical admission records, and even her the creation of fake patients, in order to access and then steal narcotics for her personal use. In total, it involved repeated falsifications and theft by Ms. Coyle of some 700 mg of morphine and 22 mg of hydromorphone between November 1, 2014, and January 15, 2015, which on many days Ms. Coyle would use while at work in quantities that left her caring for patients "high as a kite".


I view this broader context to be highly aggravating. It takes the case from one in which a series of decisions, actions, and ultimately criminal negligence on a single day caused a patient to die to one in which the behaviour is part of a prolonged pattern of behaviour in which Ms. Coyle chose day after day to the trust of the patients she cared for, the hospital, her colleagues, and the public by repeatedly putting patients' lives at risk.


Notably, Justice Joubert wrote that Coyle’s pre-sentencing report specified that at the height of her addiction, Coyle was frequently working at the hospital while under the influence of narcotics, which she stole “through a variety of strategies”. His Honour wrote that the report specified that Coyle on average would consume approximately 50 milligrams per day, escalating to intravenous drug use while at work. The decision goes on to observe that


… the evidence does not state that Ms. Coyle was found at any point to have changed back the falsified entries that she had entered on patients’ medical charts. I view all of this to be highlight aggravating. It speaks to an enhanced level of disregard for the wellbeing of patients …


Notably, since a January 2024 advertising campaign related to these events, Riverside Health Care Facilities Inc. (which operates La Verendrye Hospital) has failed to specify whether it has ever properly notified any other patients whose care was impacted by Coyle’s misconduct. In a letter dated January 10, 2024, Minister of Health Sylvia Jones has also declined a request from the Fletchers to investigate the circumstances of Coyle’s longstanding manipulation of patient records and thefts at La Verendrye Hospital.


While His Honour provided an overview of his decision during the January 16 sentencing appearance, the release of today’s decision is the first time that the court’s sentencing considerations have been fully disclosed. It is unknown why written reasons have been delayed for more than 3 months.


Coyle has since appealed her sentence to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In her Notice of Appeal, Coyle calls the 2 year sentence “harsh and excessive”. Coyle has also already applied for parole and the victim's family have been asked to provide new victim impact statements by May 17, 2024.


In 2021, Fletcher’s estate, together with her surviving son and granddaughter, brought a civil claim against Coyle and Riverside. While the plaintiffs have resolved matters with Riverside, the civil judgment against Coyle has yet to be handed down.


Questions and requests will only be addressed through the contact identified below. It is noted for readers that Coyle's first name is spelled incorrectly in today's court decision.

 

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Further Information:



Contact:

Douglas W. Judson

Email: doug@judsonhowie.ca

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