Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavik September 06, 2018 - 2:30 pm

Nunavik girl’s death could likely have been avoided with safety netting: coroner

Annie Alaku-Papigatuk died in April 2017 after she was struck by a hockey puck

SARAH ROGERS
A view from behind the protective netting that surrounds the hockey rink in Puvirnituq. After a Nunavik girl died from being struck in the head by a hockey puck, a coroner's report recommends the Quebec government look at the effectiveness of protective netting in arenas across the province. (FILE PHOTO)
A view from behind the protective netting that surrounds the hockey rink in Puvirnituq. After a Nunavik girl died from being struck in the head by a hockey puck, a coroner's report recommends the Quebec government look at the effectiveness of protective netting in arenas across the province. (FILE PHOTO)

A Nunavik girl’s 2017 death would “most likely have been avoided” if the local hockey arena were fitted with protective netting around the rink, a Quebec coroner’s report has concluded.

Annie Alaku-Papigatuk, 12, died from head trauma on April 2, 2017, the morning after she was struck by a hockey puck.

The girl was attending a midget hockey tournament at the local arena in her hometown of Salluit on the early evening of April 1. Alaku-Papigatuk was seated in the second row, not far from centre ice.

Partway through the game, a puck bounced off a net behind the goal area and into the crowd, where it struck Alaku-Papigatuk on her right eyebrow.

The impact of the hit made the girl cry, but she didn’t lose consciousness, the report noted. Alaku-Papigatuk told those around her that she felt okay and was able to walk. An adult who accompanied her applied a bag of snow to her head.

Alaku-Papigatuk went home, but later vomited and complained about a headache.

Early the following morning, on April 2, the girl’s father realized she wasn’t breathing and took her to the local health centre. She was declared dead just after 11 a.m.

The coroner found Alaku-Papigatuk had suffered a complex fracture of her right temporal bone, which caused hemorrhaging and clotting around the brain.

Quebec coroner Steeve Poisson called the death accidental, but he noted that “had there been a safety net around the rink, this death would most likely have been avoided.”

At the time of Alaku-Papigatuk’s death, Salluit’s arena was one of the few hockey arenas in Nunavik with no protective netting.

The Northern Village of Salluit installed netting around its rink shortly after Alaku-Papigatuk’s death, Salluit Mayor Paulusie Saviadjuk said.

The coroner’s report made one recommendation, suggesting Quebec’s ministry of Education, Recreation and Sport study the effectiveness of protective netting in arenas, with the goal of incorporating their use in the province’s arenas.

Parents felt abandoned by government agencies following daughter’s death

But the time it’s taken for the coroner’s report to be made public has been a point of stress for the family of the girl.

Alaku-Papigatuk’s parents testified before Quebec’s Viens commission—which is looking at how some public services are delivered to Indigenous groups in the province.

They said they’ve been unable to seek closure or finalize certain documents in the absence of the coroner’s report, which was made public in late August.

The parents of the girl have been unable to settle with an insurance company, nor can they finalize discussions with the municipality or the Kativik Regional Government.

In a declaration made to the commission on Aug. 6, Markusie Papigatuk said there was no communication between the coroner’s office and the family about his daughter’s death; no one ever explained to the family why the coroner’s investigation was launched, nor what it entailed.

The family’s request for the police report into the incident was denied on the grounds that the coroner’s office had exclusive access to it while the report was being prepared.

“They never called us at home, we’ve just been waiting for them, for the report from the coroner,” said the girl’s father, Markusie Papigatuk, to the commission on Aug. 6.

“I’d like to add that as this file keeps going on and on, it gets the memory fresh.”

Papigatuk declined to speak to Nunatsiaq News. It’s not clear if the family now has the French-language report or the English translation of the report they requested.

For its part, the coroner’s office has told the Viens commission it had trouble communicating with the Alaku-Papigatuk family because of a language barrier, but had in fact exchanged information with the family’s lawyer on at least five occasions.

Coroners’ reports in Quebec take an average of 18 months to complete, from the time an investigation is launched until the time the office makes a report public. In this case, the report took 16 months to be released.

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