For five days in December, as his 89-year-old mother lay injured on the floor of her bedroom, Ron Siwicki dutifully stood aside and waited with her for the end, says his lawyer.
There was to be no hospital visit, no ambulance and no 911 calls. Betty Siwicki reportedly wanted only the comfort of a blanket and the occasional protein drink as life ebbed from her.
“It’s very difficult for me to discuss the facts of the case with him,” said Mike Cook, the lawyer for Mr. Siwicki, who was arrested by Winnipeg Police soon after his mother’s death.
“When I started to read the police report, he just broke down. He put his head into his hands and was sobbing.”
In a potentially landmark case, Mr. Siwicki is facing charges of criminal negligence causing death and failing to provide the necessities of life.
If convicted, the 62-year-old musician faces a maximum of four years in prison.
“You’re 62 years of age. You’ve never been involved in the criminal justice system. Your mom dies and you’re in custody because of this? I can’t imagine a more horrible scenario for this fellow,” said Mr. Cook.
On Monday, in a courtroom packed with supporters — many of whom know the accused from the Winnipeg music scene — Mr. Siwicki was granted bail. He was also ordered to undergo a psychiatric assessment.
“To me it seems like it must have been a misunderstanding,” said Wanda Morris, CEO of Dying With Dignity. “Did she really want to lie there in pain for five days, or was it a fear that if you called someone, they would force her to be resuscitated or have care?”
Under Canadian law, Ms. Siwicki had the right to deny all forms of medical care, including resuscitation. And if she was incapable due to Alzheimer’s or dementia, her son could have denied it on her behalf.
As a result, it would have been entirely possible for Ms. Siwicki to access comfortable end-of-life care without kicking off a years-long odyssey of being hooked up to life support.
“It’s absolutely possible to get comfort care [morphine, a catheter, etc.] but not have any treatments that you don’t want,” said Ms. Morris.
‘To me it seems like it must have been a misunderstanding’
If doctors provide invasive care against the patient’s wishes, meanwhile, they would open themselves up to assault charges.
“And she would have the strongest of cases,” said Ms. Morris.
Mr. Siwicki works as a guitarist in the Winnipeg area, and played in the 1960s band The Boston Tea Party. Since his arrest, friends have painted a picture of him as a devoted caregiver to his mother, who lived with him and reportedly suffered from dementia.
“Ron has shaped his life and devoted himself to the ongoing care and support of his mother, sometimes forgoing opportunities both in business and in his social life,” said Michael Gillespie, who said he has known Mr. Siwicki for 35 years, writing on a Facebook page for Winnipeg musicians.
“Ron would often leave gatherings of friends earlier than others in order to attend to his mother. He stated, to me at least, that he accepted that his mother was his responsibility and I know he meant that sincerely.”
Fellow musician Wendy Cameron said Mr. Siwicki’s mother used to come to gigs with him and he used to bring home meals to her after he played a set at a Winnipeg bar and restaurant.
In August, Mr. Siwicki posted a short video to YouTube showing him singing to his mother on her 89th birthday.
“Well, how do you feel?” he says. “How do I feel? Nothing,” she replies.
Henry Kreindler, another longtime friend, said Mr. Siwicki “always carried out his mother’s wishes.”
“Perhaps this was not a wise thing to do here,” he added.
The charge of failing to provide the necessities of life is typically handed to parents who starve their babies to death, but it can technically be applied to any caregiver who fails to give food or medical attention to their charge.
“This means it is a crime if you do not provide necessaries of life to someone in your care that cannot leave your care due to their age, illness or other impairment,” reads a legal opinion published by the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly.
The charge has been applied in cases of alleged elder abuse, but usually in extreme circumstances.
Criminal negligence causing death, meanwhile, is the standard charge for drivers who cause fatal accidents by drinking or texting at the wheel.
“It’s an unusual case, I’ve never heard of a case like this, but a lot of the detail is missing,” said University of Calgary bio-ethicist Juliet Guichon.
For now, the Crown’s side of the case is remaining out of the public eye. On Monday, arguments at Mr. Siwicki’s bail hearing were all subject to a publication ban.