Public inquiry sparked by Wettlaufer case begins in St. Thomas

  ST. THOMAS, Ont. -- A public inquiry examining the circumstances that allowed a long-term care nurse to kill elderly patients in her care is now underway in St. Thomas, Ont.

The probe, led by Ontario Court of Appeal judge Eileen Gillese, will examine systemic factors that allowed Elizabeth Wettlaufer to inject more than a dozen patients with overdoses of insulin while working at long-term care homes and private residences in southwestern Ontario for nearly a decade.

Wettlaufer's crimes were never detected and only came to light when she confessed them to mental health workers and police.

The Ontario government set up the inquiry last summer after Wettlaufer pleaded guilty to eight counts of first-degree murder, four counts of attempted murder and two counts of aggravated assault.

She was sentenced to life in prison without parole eligibility for 25 years.

Gillese says the inquiry will seek to answer what failings allowed Wettlaufer's crimes to take place, and what can be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

"It is not sufficient to offer answers to these questions based on conjecture, half-truths or assumptions," Gillese told the inquiry on Tuesday.

She noted that there have been four extensive investigations leading up to the inquiry. They focused on the facilities and agencies that employed Wettlaufer, the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, the College of Nurses of Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

Gillese said the commission's legal team reviewed more than 41,000 documents and interviewed experts and dozens of other people.

Some of the people who have permission to call and question witnesses at the Long-Term Care Homes Public Inquiry include one of Wettlaufer's surviving victims, family and friends of those she killed, and advocacy and health-care organizations.