Veteran Yellowknife lawyer to head review of Nunavut nursing scandal

Katherine Peterson to start work this March, finish report by Nov. 30


A view of Cape Dorset, where on April 5, 2012, three-month-old Makibi Akesuk Timilak died of a common respiratory viral infection. (FILE PHOTO)

A view of Cape Dorset, where on April 5, 2012, three-month-old Makibi Akesuk Timilak died of a common respiratory viral infection. (FILE PHOTO)

Katherine Peterson, a veteran lawyer who worked for many years in Yellowknife, will start an external review by the end of this March into the circumstances surrounding the April 5, 2012 death of three-month old Makibi Akesuk Timilak in Cape Dorset, Health Minister Paul Okalik announced Feb. 24.

Okalik’s predecessor, Monica Ell, had announced this past Nov. 6 that the Government of Nunavut planned to do the review.

That followed the publication and broadcast this past October of a CBC News story, “Death and Denial in Cape Dorset,” which alleges the baby died because a nurse in Cape Dorset refused to see her at the health centre.

Okalik said the review will not look at the cause of the baby’s death.

“Mr. Speaker, this review is restricted to the operations of the Department of Health and related GN departments. It will not consider the cause of death or any conclusions of the Chief Coroner for Nunavut regarding this case,” Okalik said.

But the review will look at two things, Okalik said: steps taken in the wake of the baby’s death and whether they were appropriate in the circumstances.

A news release issued about 90 minutes after Okalik’s announcement said the review will also “determine if standard operating procedures were followed and if they were appropriate.”

In addition, Okalik said Peterson’s review will look at procedures within GN departments for receiving and responding to complaints about nursing care in Nunavut.

“Ms. Peterson is a long-time northern lawyer based in Yellowknife. She brings an extensive and distinguished legal background in northern affairs, as she has provided legal counsel for territorial and municipal governments,” Okalik said.

In the past, Peterson headed a review of family law for the Government of the Northwest Territories and in the 1990s headed an investigation of physical and sexual abuse made by former students of the former Roman Catholic residential school in Chesterfield Inlet.

She practiced law in Yellowknife from 1978 until 2010, when she retired and moved to Ontario, the September-October 2010 issue of the NWT law society’s newsletter said.

Okalik said Peterson will speak with the deceased child’s family in Cape Dorset, GN officials, and the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“The Department of Health will cooperate fully with requests made by Ms. Peterson,” Okalik said.

Okalik was to have tabled the review’s terms of reference later on Feb. 24. That’s the document that sets out Peterson’s marching orders.

She will file an interim report by Oct. 31, 2015 and a final report by Nov. 30, 2015.

In those reports, which will be made public, Peterson will make recommendations to fix problems within the Department of Health and the Department of Finance.

The Department of Finance, through its employee relations unit, is now responsible for disciplining GN employees, following the dissolution of the old Department of Human Resources.

In response to a question from South Baffin MLA David Joanasie, Okalik said Peterson will start work on the review this March.

“The holding of the independent review is an important step forward,” Joanasie said.

Joanasie also said Peterson must work closely with the Registered Nurses Association to find ways of preventing similar incidents from happening in the future.

(More to follow)

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