A coroner’s inquest into the circumstances leading to 12-year-old Chazz Petrella’s suicide is crucial to filling sometimes fatal gaps in the province’s youth mental health system, experts say.
“There’s no question it would be a very useful inquest, in my view. There’s an increasing problem of people with mental health issues who can’t get help when it’s required,” said Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto lawyer who has previously represented families at coroner’s inquests.
Janet Petrella-Ashby and her husband, Frank, requested last Friday that Dr. Dirk Huyer, Chief Coroner for Ontario, call for an inquest into their son’s late August death. The preteen committed suicide, hanging himself in a tree next to the family home. He spent years struggling with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiance disorder (ODD) and mild anxiety.
The Petrellas say their son bounced from mental health agency to mental health agency for years. They say many families in Ontario struggle to find proper treatment for their children’s mental health issues because of problems within the province’s system.
In a rare move, Irwin Elman, the provincial advocate for children and youth, backed the Petrellas by sending a second letter to Huyer, also requesting an inquest.
Cheryl Mahyr, spokesperson for the coroner’s office, confirmed Monday that Huyer had received both requests, but no decision has been made.
All deaths in Ontario are considered for possible inquests, she said, but the decision to call an inquest is made at the conclusion of the local coroner’s investigation. The Petrellas’ lawyer, Julie Kirkpatrick, said that investigation is ongoing, pending toxicology tests, and results could take several weeks.
Should the local coroner determine that an inquest is not necessary, the family may file a written request to hold an inquest, Mahyr said. The case would then be reviewed by the Regional Supervising Coroner, Dr. Craig Muir, who has 60 days to respond. If Muir again determines an inquest is not necessary, the family can then ask Huyer to review the matter. Huyer’s decision, required with 20 days, is final.
The Petrellas’ request is also supported by Monique Taylor, NDP MPP for Hamilton Mountain, who wrote a third letter to Huyer, dated Monday, requesting an inquest.
“By doing an inquest, we will have further advice to push the government to move forward with respect to mental health,” Taylor told the Star.
In the Petrellas’ case, Taylor said it was quite obvious the family was in crisis and there was no system for Janet and Frank to fall back on to save Chazz’s life.
“Now it’s too late for that family, but we have to make sure that it’s not too late for other families moving forward.”