National Newswatch

TORONTO — An Ottawa couple who has been fighting for 15 years to have their son's death reinvestigated has filed a $12.5 million lawsuit against Toronto police, alleging detectives ignored, concealed or eliminated evidence to support a conclusion that the young man committed suicide.

John and Gloria Connelly are also asking the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to declare that police should investigate their son John's death as a homicide — something the couple argues should have happened right from the start.

"When John was killed, the Toronto Police Service had closed the case before they told us John was dead," the young man's father said Wednesday in a phone interview from Ottawa. 

The couple's son was 22 and in his third year as a pharmacy student at the University of Toronto when he died in the early hours of Dec. 9, 2001.

He was found in the parking lot of the building where he lived at around 7:20 a.m., and police quickly ruled his death a suicide.

In their statement of claim, the Connellys allege that much of the information police relied on to make that determination — including the location of their son's body — turned out to be incorrect, but investigators have repeatedly refused to reopen the case.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court and Toronto police have yet to file a statement of defence.

The suit claims police concluded the young man went to the 10th floor of his building and climbed onto the roof through a secured hatch, then took a running leap and plummeted down to the parking lot.

This was determined largely because his body was found around 10.5 metres from the building, the Connellys' claim says. It was later discovered that the young man's body was in fact found about five metres from the building, the document alleges.

The couple further alleges that photos showing the building's roof hatch was still closed and secure have gone missing, as have recordings of two 911 calls from that morning.

The pair has also questioned how their son sustained bruises to his forehead if he landed on his back, and why officers did not canvass the building for witnesses.

The couple's statement of claim further alleges that a blood-stained pillow case found in their son's apartment was misplaced without any forensic analysis being conducted.

The document also notes that neighbours allegedly reported seeing two "miserable looking men" entering the apartment days before the young man's death — an occurrence the suit alleges police did not investigate.

John Connelly said he and his wife believe their son was murdered, and have spent years approaching various oversight bodies in an effort to have the case reopened, including a failed push for a coroner's inquest.

The lawsuit is "one of the steps that we have to take now" in the quest for a new investigation, Connelly said.

"I'm sorry it came to this but this lawsuit is really about police accountability and it's really about how oversight deals with policing in the province," he said.

"Maybe in the past, police got away with just ignoring people like us, but in today's world, there's cellphone images, there's media, there's Internet, it's more and more difficult for them to do that."

Even if the suit doesn't lead police to revisit the case, it will surely reveal more information about the circumstances surrounding their son's death and the investigation, he said.

The Toronto Police Service did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

Click here for more political news headlines