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Their dad died but Toronto police didn’t tell them. They want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else

James Taylor hadn’t heard from his father, Douglas Taylor, 66, for more than a week, which wasn’t uncommon. So when he went to check in and visit him on Feb. 23, he didn’t suspect anything serious was wrong.

But when he got to his dad’s Toronto apartment unit, there was a police seal on the door that read: Do not break without authorization.

Panicked and confused, he called his wife, Alexandra Taylor, who called building staff to ask why the unit was sealed. That’s how the family learned their father had died 11 days prior. 

“It’s just disrespectful to him because he’s there in a freezer just waiting and here we are unaware,” James said. 

A police report obtained by the family through a freedom of information request shows investigators had James and his sister, Christine Taylor, listed as their father’s next of kin.

Officers ran their cellphone numbers through internal databases and an online business directory, but nothing came up. It appears there were no other attempts by police to contact them after that, according to the report. 

WATCH | The Taylors remember their father: 

Police didn’t notify family their dad died

2 hours ago

Duration 4:02

The Taylor family unanswered questions about why they weren’t notified their loved one died has made grieving and finding closure more difficult.

“Everyone hopes to be able to live with dignity but also have dignity in death,” Christine said. “I think this felt for all of us that that was kind of stripped away from him.”   

After a handful of conversations with police, the family says they are still unable to get answers about why they weren’t notified. So they sent a letter to the Toronto Police Service on April 4 outlining possible legal action, though the family says they have no plans to move forward with that at this point. They just want to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.

When contacted by CBC, Toronto police spokesperson Stephanie Sayer said the service can’t comment because of the letter sent by the family. 

“We extend our condolences to the family and loved ones for their loss,” Sayer said. 

Police never notified family 

Taylor was found dead by a neighbour on Feb. 12 in his unit at Ray McCleary Towers — a financially assisted housing complex for seniors in Toronto’s east end run by social services agency WoodGreen Community Services.

Police found no signs of foul play and a coroner determined he died of natural causes, according to the police report.  

A man smiles at the camera in front of flowers.
Douglas Taylor is remembered by his family as an emphatic, kind-hearted man who was helpful and befriended everyone around him. (Submitted by Taylor family)

The report says “a search of the apartment did not yield any useful next of kin information.” Taylor’s family says photos of him with his children and grandchildren were displayed in the apartment, which should have been a clue he had family active in his life.

The report goes on to say the apartment was sealed and a WoodGreen employee provided Taylor’s next of kin information to officers.

The police report appears to show an officer searched the siblings’ cellphone numbers that night in an internal database, seemingly for their addresses, but there were no hits.

A sticker that goes across the opening of a door reads: police seal. Do not break without authorization.
James Taylor snapped this photo of the police seal he found on his father’s door when he went to check in and pay him a visit on Feb. 23. (Submitted by James Taylor)

Their names and numbers were passed on to a different officer the next day, but one digit in James’s cellphone number was typed incorrectly in the report. 

That officer searched the numbers through another internal police database and on yellowpages.com, an online business search, but nothing came up. 

It appears no other attempt was made to track down Taylor’s children or any other family members, according to the report. 

The next entry in the report is 10 days later, on Feb. 23. It outlines Alexandra’s call to police after her husband discovered the police seal on his father’s door. 

Ultimately, she was the one to notify the next of kin — her husband. 

“That was a really hard phone call for me to make,” she said, holding back tears.

‘This is wrong’

When asked about the death notification process in general, Toronto police media relations officer Shannon Eames said it is to be done in person when possible and as soon as possible.

“There isn’t a specific time frame because it would be based on the specific circumstances and how long it takes to find next of kin,” she said. 

She also said there are some instances when next of kin are notified over the phone, though doing so in person is preferred.

Former Toronto Mayor John Sewell is the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.
Former Toronto mayor John Sewell is the co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition. (Submitted by John Sewell)

John Sewell, a former Toronto mayor and co-ordinator of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, which works to make police more accountable to the public, says there are several more steps police could have taken to track down Taylor’s children, including contacting the landlord or neighbour who called 911.

He also questions why the officers didn’t just call the cellphone numbers they had to deliver the news. 

“This is wrong. I mean, come on. We’ve got to have better behaviour from the police when somebody’s died,” Sewell said.

“This is an abrogation of responsibility. Police have a responsibility to act reasonably in this situation and they have not.” 

Police had next of kin info same day: WoodGreen

The legal letter the family sent to police was also sent to WoodGreen, which runs the apartment building Taylor was living in. 

The family says the non-profit is also to blame because the police report said officers attempted to find next of kin information “but the office file was empty” and that the investigator would have to follow up with WoodGreen’s main office.

“That led to the domino effect of what happened,” James said.

A tall apartment building is seen from a bird's eye view surrounded by trees, houses, a road and the Toronto skyline.
Taylor was found dead by a neighbour in his unit at WoodGreen Community Services’s Ray McCleary Towers in Toronto. (Patrick Morrell/CBC )

WoodGreen says all its tenant files are electronic and that it provided police with the correct next of kin information over the phone while officers were still at the building after they were called in.

“WoodGreen’s No. 1 priority is the safety of our clients, and we take reports of death, violence, harm, harassment or misconduct of any form very seriously. Our staff are well trained and follow standard procedures,” spokesperson Kathy Koch said. 

“WoodGreen has and will continue to review our policies and procedures to ensure that we support our clients and their families to the best of our ability.”

The non-profit also extended its sympathies to Taylor’s family and friends.

‘A lot harder to bear’

Taylor’s family remembers him as an empathetic, kind-hearted and helpful man who befriended everyone he met. 

They say he didn’t hold back when he laughed, which he did a lot, in his sincere and unique way.

A woman and two men in formal wear smile at the camera.
Christine, James and Douglas Taylor are pictured at James’s wedding in 2018. (Submitted by Taylor family)

They say they’re left with unanswered questions about what happened that led to them not being notified, which has made finding closure more difficult. 

“Their indifference has made this whole situation a lot — losing our dad — a lot harder to bear,” Christine said. 

Alexandra says she spoke with the lead investigator more than a month ago who said he’d look into why the family wasn’t notified, but she hasn’t heard back. 

The family says it’s important they share what happened because they want police and WoodGreen to review their policies and procedures in hopes of improving them so this doesn’t happen to another family.

It’s also a way for them to honour their father. 

“He cared a lot about the people around him, even strangers. And I think we’re trying, in our own small way, to pay it forward,” Christine said. 

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