Alberta to launch ‘fatality inquiry’ into death of Lillian Vanasse

Lillian Vanasse

Lillian Vanasse, 40, died in an Alberta hospital in December 2020. Photo: APTN file.

Alberta’s minister of justice and solicitor general is ordering a public fatality inquiry into the death of Lillian Vanasse, 40, a woman who died in a hospital in Hanna, Alta., located 220 km northeast of Calgary in 2020.

“The purpose of a public fatality inquiry is to determine the identity of the deceased, the date, time and place of death, and the circumstances of death,” wrote Abid Navani, a fatality inquiry coordinator. “Once the inquiry is complete the judge will provide a written report to the Minister.

“The judge may make recommendations for the prevention of similar incidents, but cannot make findings of legal responsibility.”

The letter was received by Vanasse’s husband, Cory Ashley, who has been lobbying Alberta’s medical examiner to speed up the investigation into how his wife died.

On Christmas Day in 2020, Ashley called 911 after Vanasse was having trouble breathing.

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According to medical records provided to Ashley and shared with APTN News, when paramedics arrived, Lillian was sweating heavily and pale. Paramedics noted; “lung sounds decreased on R side.”

He told APTN that when they arrived at the hospital he pleaded with staff to give her oxygen.

Ashley told APTN that Vanasse did not get oxygen.

Eventually, police were called and Ashley was escorted from the hospital where he was told to go home and return in the morning.

Ashley told APTN during a January 2021 interview that he went home, hoping to pick his wife up in the morning, but instead received a call from the doctor.

“She said Cory, you have to get here, your wife stopped breathing.’ I said, ‘is she okay?’ and said, ‘no she’s not,’” he said, reliving the pain from the call.

He said when he arrived back at the hospital, he saw Lillian undergoing chest compressions.

“I looked and my wife’s body was dead, there was nothing there, I could see it. I heard a nurse say she’s had no pulse for 45 minutes since we found her,” he said.

“I put my hand under the blanket, and I put my hand on my wife’s leg and it was cold. It was cold.”

Lillian Vanasse
Cory and Ashley on their wedding day. Photo: APTN file.

Alberta Health told APTN that it had launched an investigation but nothing has been released to the public or even Ashley until this letter arrived.

The province’s medical examiner reached out to Ashley to talk about his wife’s death. Ashley says that 45 minute conversation has already been handed over to the fatalities board.

Ashey said in an email to APTN that the medical examiner also sent the autopsy report to the fatalities board.

According to the province, “inquiry counsel has not been appointed yet. Once appointed, inquiry counsel will work with the judge to determine the list of witnesses and exhibits for the inquiry,” said the letter.

It’s not clear by the letter whether Ashley will be able to participate in the inquiry.

No date has been set for the inquiry.

Vanasse is originally from Sandy Bay First Nation in Manitoba.

Editor’s Note: Cory Ashley shared a number of details with APTN that have been added to this story on June 6, 2022. Mainly, he has spoken with Alberta’s medical examiner – and that he, and the medical examiner have sent information to the fatalities board in relation to his wife’s death. We apologize for leaving this information out. 

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