Nunavut family testify about son’s death at inquest over police shooting
“I know they’re there to serve and protect the public. I believe that. That’s why I called them.”
WARNING: This story contains details that some readers may find disturbing.
POND INLET—Parents of a young man who died of a police-inflicted gunshot wound said during a coroner’s inquest on Wednesday, Nov. 7, that the RCMP and first responders communicated poorly with them during and following that tragedy last year in Pond Inlet.
Kunuk Qamaniq, 20, died on March 18, 2017, at the north Baffin community’s health centre at around 8 p.m., following a standoff where police confirmed the young man was wounded by one round fired by the RCMP.
It was a family member who worked at the health centre, and not the RCMP, who called the man’s parents to tell them to rush to the health centre that day.
“No police came to our house to inform us our son had been shot … we did not receive an apology from the RCMP,” David Qamaniq said in his emotional testimony on the second day of the inquest, which will last for four to five days in the community of about 1,600 people.
“I know they’re there to serve and protect the public. I believe that. That’s why I called them,” he said.
On the day their son died, the Qamaniqs called for RCMP support after they saw Kunuk walk towards the community graveyard carrying a rifle.
Leah Qamaniq, Kunuk’s mother, told the inquest that two of Kunuk’s cousins had died by suicide within the past few years, and his close friend in Igloolik was charged with murder. On the day he died, Kunuk was grieving the recent anniversary of his younger sister’s death by suicide a year earlier.
“After he lost his sister, he was going through a very difficult time,” Leah said.
In Nunavut, coroner’s inquests are mandatory for all deaths involving police.
These inquests are fact-finding hearings held to determine the time, manner, cause and circumstances surrounding a death. Inquests do not lay blame or find guilt.
Days after the shooting, a member of the Ottawa Police Service met with the Qamaniq family as part of a mandatory investigation by an external police force.
At the health centre on March 18, 2017, the two parents were allowed to see Kunuk briefly in a medical trauma room, where David described seeing his son’s “huge wound.”
“We were not permitted to be in touching range. We just saw him,” he said. “We were rushed out very quickly while he was still alive.”
The parents waited by themselves, and later with friends. There was blood on the floor leading into the trauma room where Kunuk was, they said.
When Kunuk died, a nurse came out to tell them. There was no mental health support: “We were always by ourselves,” Leah said.
That morning, Leah had seen her son crying. When she saw him walking towards the graveyard with a rifle, she said, “I called out to him, ‘My son, please.’”
“My son” was the pet name she had used for Kunuk since childhood.
Kunuk had told her at times that he wanted to join his sister, and also that he found it hard to speak with mental health professionals.
“He seemed to be more peaceful every time he spoke to a fellow Inuk giving him advice,” she said.
“We did everything we were able to do.”
Speaking on the phone from Resolute Bay, medical nurse Annette Avery told the inquest that all four community nurses in Pond Inlet were called in to the health centre that day.
Not at work herself, “I put on my parka and ran,” she said.
The four nurses worked with a doctor who was talking to them over speakerphone from Iqaluit.
When the family lawyer asked why the Qamaniqs weren’t with their son, Avery said her memory wasn’t clear but she was able to explain that it was hard for nurses to hear the doctor over the speakerphone.
Nurses struggled, unsuccessfully, to stop Kunuk’s bleeding.
“We did everything we were able to do,” she said, adding that even remote communities in a southern region wouldn’t have had the resources needed to save the young man’s life.
“What was needed were a trauma surgeon and a big hospital and blood products,” she said.
It was Avery who spoke with the Qamaniq family after Kunuk died.
“No one else seemed to want to do it,” she said.
The gunshot wound that led to Kunuk’s death was serious, an Ottawa forensic pathologist who did a post-mortem autopsy told the inquest.
“There’s nothing that could be done to save this individual,” said Dr. Alfredo Walker, who testified in person.
In a 3D computer-generated image, Walker showed how the bullet entered Kunuk’s left upper chest and exited through the back of the right-hand side of his neck.
The bullet was fired from at least two feet away, Walker said, but he couldn’t say if the distance was further than that.
That autopsy showed Qamaniq had no alcohol in his system at the time of death, and there were no drugs in his bloodstream.
To help avoid these kinds of death in the future, Kunuk’s father David Qamaniq told jurors that he wants to see more Inuit special police constables working with the RCMP in Nunavut, and to see funding prioritized for elder counsellors at health centres.
Following the inquest, a report by the inquest’s coroner and six jurors will provide recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths in the future.
If you are feeling distressed or suicidal, call the Kamatsiaqtut Help Line, 24-hours a day, at 1-867-979-3333 in Iqaluit, or toll-free from Nunavik or Nunavut, at 1-800-265-3333.