Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Nunavut January 16, 2014 - 2:14 pm

Chief coroner calls public inquest into Nunavut suicides

Inquest will examine three random cases, make recommendations

DAVID MURPHY
Nunavut's chief coroner, Padma Suramala, displays a copy of a coroner's research form to members of the media at a press conference Jan. 16 in Iqaluit. The form, which coroner's have to complete after attending the scene of a death,
Nunavut's chief coroner, Padma Suramala, displays a copy of a coroner's research form to members of the media at a press conference Jan. 16 in Iqaluit. The form, which coroner's have to complete after attending the scene of a death, "collects detailed demographic information of each and every suicide and records the circumstances surrounding each death in detail," Suramala said. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

Nunavut’s chief coroner, Padma Suramala, is calling a public inquest into what she called the “disheartening” number of suicides in the territory.

The announcement, made Jan. 16 in Iqaluit, comes after reports that revealed 45 people died by suicide in 2013, Nunavut’s worst year since it became a territory in 1999.

Three Nunavummiut have already taken their lives in 2014.

Suramala said her office is “greatly concerned of [the] growing epidemic rate of suicides in the territory.”

For that reason, the chief coroner’s office will conduct a “discretionary inquest” under the Coroner’s Act that will involve selecting, at random, three of the 45 suicide deaths in Nunavut in 2013.

The inquest, to be held in Iqaluit, will be open to the public and to media.

“There will be six jury members that will be hearing the case and the entire proceedings. And at the end of the proceedings, it is the jury members that will be making the recommendations after hearing the three cases,” Suramala said. 

“The intent of the inquest is to build on the work already done by the chief coroner and the community coroners with respect to suicide,” Suramala said.

The inquest will “highlight risk factors and warning signs, raise public awareness and facilitate making recommendations to avoid preventable deaths in the future,” she said.

Members of the six-person jury will be chosen from the public. Their findings and recommendations could be announced to the public some time in the fall of 2014, Suramala said.

Suramala said the job of a coroner is “difficult and distressful” when investigating and determining the causes of deaths.

But through those investigations, the coroner’s office “collects detailed demographic information of each and every suicide, and records the circumstances surrounding each death in detail,” Suramala said.

“The coroner’s office collects this data to assist in prevention strategies and assist in decreasing the rate,” Suramala said.

Suramala outlined some of the risk factors associated with suicide, including mental illness, previous suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, sexual abuse, break-ups and coping with loss.

She also released statistics showing the breakdown of the territory’s suicides by community.

Iqaluit topped the list with 10 suicide deaths in 2013, the city’s second highest number since it became the territorial capital. Eleven suicides were recorded in Iqaluit in 2011.

Pangnirtung and Arviat each suffered four suicide deaths in 2013; Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet, Igloolik and Pond Inlet each saw three in 2013. Cape Dorset recorded two suicide deaths, while seven other communities reported single suicides last year.

Since Nunavut was created in 1999, the territory has lost 434 people to suicide – the vast majority of whom were male.

Over the past 14 years, 352 men died by suicide (80 per cent) and 84 women.

Six of those suicide deaths were by non-Inuit.

The data showed that suicide victims in 2013 ranged in age from 11 to 72 but there was no breakdown by age group.

“It’s very disheartening to see the rates. It’s not easy, even for a coroner, for us. It’s very stressful to go to each and every scene,” Suramala said.

“The office of the chief coroner conveys our deepest sympathy to any Nunavummiut who have lost their loved ones and have been affected by suicides,” she said.

With files from Sarah Rogers.

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