Shewchuk: Nunavut coroner to hold inquest next year in death of Igloolik man
Arnait Video preparing documentary on jail-cell death of Solomon Uyarasuk
The family and friends of the late Solomon Uyarasuk must wait at least until the early months of 2014 for a coroner’s inquest into the young man’s jail-cell death on Sept. 23, 2012, Nunavut justice minister Dan Shewchuk told the legislative assembly Sept. 12.
Uyarasuk, 26, a popular musician, artist and member of the Artcirq performance group, died Sept. 23, 2012 while held in custody at the Igloolik RCMP detachment.
Although it’s commonly believed he died by suicide, neither the RCMP nor the Nunavut coroner’s office have stated the official cause of Uyarasuk’s death, leading to widespread suspicion and frustration in the community.
Amittuq MLA Louis Tapardjuk of Igloolik has asked numerous questions about the matter in the legislative assembly, demanding to know when an inquest will be held.
On Sept. 12, Shewchuk gave him an answer:
“Mr. Speaker, to my understanding, regarding this incident, the investigation is complete and has been turned over to the coroner’s office. My information from the coroner’s office into this is that there will be an inquest held in 2014,” Shewchuk said.
Tapardjuk responded by repeating the longstanding complaints of his constituents, who have received no information about the nature of Uyarasuk’s death, saying “lengthy delays can have a traumatic impact on the relatives of the deceased, especially close family members.”
Tapardjuk, in a sitting of the legislative assembly this past fall, said Nunavut should create an independent policing council to create a better working relationship between RCMP and communities.
Tapardjuk also asked Shewchuk if the justice department will review the Coroner’s Act to bring in amendments setting clear timelines for holding inquests.
“It is very difficult times and frustrating times on the community and on the families who are dealing with these tragic situations,” Shewchuk said.
“Some of these processes are very lengthy from investigation to the RCMP to the review at the coroner’s office, but I do understand the frustration and the point that Mr. Tapardjuk,” Shewchuk said.
Shewchuk added that he will have “discussions” with the coroners office to talk about the issue and he committed to the tabling in the assembly of reports from the coroner’s office.
Meanwhile, Marie-Hélène Cousineau of Arnait Video Productions is now preparing a documentary on Uyarasuk’s death with co-director Susan Avingaq of Igloolik.
That documentary, to be entitled “The Death of Solomon Uyarasuk,” will likely show nationally on Superchannel about a year from now.
“It [Uyarasuk’s death] really moved a lot of people in the community. He was a very active young person, he was a singer, a musician, a member of Artcirq, an artist, a filmmaker also and a musician,” Cousineau said in a recent interview with Nunatsiaq News.
The young man’s family is not represented by a lawyer. And they still know next to nothing about the circumstances surrounding his death.
They haven’t been allowed to see an autopsy report and they have received no information from the Ottawa Police Service, who sent members to Igloolik to investigate the incident, Cousineau said.
“They don’t have an answer for anything. So there is this feeling that maybe somebody is hiding something from them. What they’re saying is that if there was a suicide, we want to make peace with it and why are we not told how he died?”
That information vacuum prompted Tapardjuk this past February to first ask for an inquest into Uyarasuk’s death.
At the same time, other things have fed the family’s suspicions.
For example, the two RCMP members on duty at the time of Uyarasuk’s death left the community the following day.
And before the body was flown out for the autopsy, police asked the family for fresh clothes.
But they never saw the old clothes Uyarasuk wore when he died and they were never allowed to see his body.
“That’s the kind of thing that sets off rumours. An older sister who is an elder expected to see him as he was lying dead but she was not allowed to do that. They never saw him before he left town,” Cousineau said.
“It’s been almost a year and they don’t have an answer. Nobody is talking to them. So it’s very frustrating and very sad for all of them,” she said.
For that reason, family members have been willing to co-operate with the making of Arnait Video’s documentary because they’re tired of the secrecy.
“We realized people want to talk about this. They wanted to ask their questions and they were very willing to share their concerns and questions and uneasiness about this.”
And she also hopes the people of Igloolik and Nunavut will get a chance to see Arnait’s documentary, perhaps on a website, before it airs nationally.