MASSENA - Relatives of Edward and Eileen Kassian are suing the Canadian government for damages related to their deaths in a November 2008 car accident.
If successful, the family could receive between $1 and $1.5 million, attorney William J. Sammon said. The Kassian family filed the lawsuit in Ottawa with the Superior Court of Justice, the highest trial court in Ontario.
The suit names the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service, AMPS Constable Michael Biron and Sergeant Kenneth Chaussi, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec and the Canadian federal government as defendants.
The family is alleging all of the defendants were liable to some degree for the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Kassian, 77, in the Cornwall Island accident, Mr. Sammon said.
Were alleging negligence on the part of two police officers for which the government would be vicariously liable for their actions, he said.
Ontario law caps damages related to the loss of a loved one at $125,000. Each of Mr. and Mrs. Kassians three Kassian children, then, could be awarded up to $250,000 for the loss of both parents, with the grandchildren eligible for additional monies, Mr. Sammon said.
On the evening of the accident, Mr. Biron had attempted to stop suspected cigarette smuggler Dany Gionet on Cornwall Island after receiving a police tip that Mr. Gionets vehicle appeared to be loaded with contraband.
Mr. Gionet failed to comply with the traffic stop and led Mr. Biron on a chase reaching speeds as high as 100 miles per hour along the islands rural roads before blowing through the intersection of International and Island roads, striking the Kassians passing vehicle and killing all three people. Mr. and Mrs. Kassian, who lived in Massena, were returning from a day trip from Montreal.
Mr. Biron and Mr. Chaussi, the supervising officer the night of the accident, were both charged with criminal negligence causing death after the accident. Provincial Justice Charles D. Anderson dismissed those charges in September 2010.
While criminal charges were not proven, the level of proof needed is less in civil proceedings, Mr. Sammon said. The Kassian family is alleging the pursuit was unnecessary.
When you look at all the circumstances surrounding the pursuit ... the level of pursuit that was engaged in was out of proportion to the problem they were trying to solve, he said.
Civil proceedings against the Canadian government began over a year ago, Mr. Sammon said. Next year is the earliest the case could go to trial,.
Mr. Sammon said he could only guess why Mr. Biron received Governor General David Johnstons Medal of Bravery award given the context of that days events. Mr. Johnston awarded Mr. Biron for attempting to save the Kassians from their burning vehicle.
The only thing I could imagine that the people who were making the decision were not fully aware of all if the circumstances surrounding the collision and how it occurred, he said. I would think whoever was making the decision, I would assume, was not aware of all the facts.
Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, will soon be sending a letter to the Canadian government inquiring about the award, spokesman Sean Magers said Wednesday. Mr. Owens had pledged his support earlier in the week contingent on the Kassian familys approval.
We are ... in the process of contacting the Canadian government to find out why the officer was awarded based on the many questions that were raised, he said. Im sure they will share the information they deem appropriate.
A spokeswoman from the secretary to the governor general previously said the information reviewed for the award selection, who nominated Mr. Biron and the total number of nominations were all confidential.