Written on May 1, 2013 – 7:52 am | by Laura West
In a previous blog, I summarized a case that provided insight into the legal steps that must be taken by family members in Ontario when an individual disappears and is presumed dead. The Ontario Declarations of Death Act, 2002 allows a court to declare an individual to be dead when the individual has disappeared in circumstances of peril or where the individual has been absent for at least 7 years and certain specific requirements are met.
I was reminded of this area of law when I read about a Canadian documentary, Unclaimed, being presented at the Hot Docs international documentary festival. As explained in a Macleans article available online, the film profiles the purported case of John Hartley Robertson, an American solider shot down over Laos in May 20, 1968, who was listed as missing in action and then presumed dead in 1976. More than forty years after he went missing, the filmmaker and a Vietnam veteran found a man living in remote Vietnamese village claiming to be the lost soldier and the film documents this process and its aftermath.
The article suggests that the film (which I have not yet seen) may raise as many questions as it provides answers. A quick online search about the film also indicates that there appears to be debate as to the legitimacy of the claims of the man identifying himself as the missing soldier. However, the possibility that the film suggests (i.e., missing individuals presumed dead can be found years later) is intriguing and raises interesting questions, legal and otherwise, that I thought readers may wish to consider.