Inquest into death of Gjoa Haven man begins
Family of Charles Qirngnirq delivers emotional testimony on day one
A coroner’s inquest into the 2016 death of a Gjoa Haven man began on Monday with emotional testimonies from the man’s family and friends.
Charles Qirngnirq was 21 years old when died on Dec. 19, 2016 after being shot by two RCMP officers at the Gjoa Haven airport. The inquest, being held in the community hall, is reviewing the circumstances of the death and may consider recommendations to prevent other deaths in similar situations. The inquest is not to determine guilt of anyone involved in the case.
George Sallerina, Qirngnirq’s cousin, was working as an operator at the Gjoa Haven airport the morning that Qirngnirq died. At the inquest, Sallerina described hearing Qirngnirq argue with his girlfriend, Rosemary, outside of his office at the airport. The couple were parents to a son.
After closing the door, Sallerina testified he heard screaming between the couple, but couldn’t make out what they were arguing about.
He said Qirngnirq left the airport, but eventually returned and appeared to have been drinking.
“His speech was slurred, and he was staggering,” he said. Qirngnirq continued to yell after his girlfriend in an “aggressive” tone and telling her to “go home.” He was eventually asked to leave the premises after hitting a window.
Sallerina next saw Qirngnirq from the window of his office, walking towards the airport with a hunting rifle pointed towards the ground.
“I was scared,” he said. “I thought he was going to shoot us.” Sallerina said he was told to call the police.
Sallerina said he turned away from the window after he saw the two officers arrive and begin talking to Qirngnirq. He said the scene outside was quiet, but when he looked out again, he saw the officers had their guns raised and Qirngnirq was on the ground.
Near the end of questioning, Sallerina broke down crying when he recalled seeing his cousin “curled in the fetal position” after initially thinking the situation was calming down.
“I thought he was OK. I thought he had surrendered,” he said through tears.
Other witnesses on the first day of the inquest included the Qirngirq’s mother, Leona, who spoke quietly about how her son seemed normal the night before his death, and neighbour Teddy Carter, who described finding him asleep on his front porch the morning of the incident.
Coroner’s counsel, Sheldon Toner, described the circumstances that an official investigation by the Ottawa Police Service says led to the shooting.
“At one point, Charles began advancing away from the officers. There were some directions given to him, and at one point, an officer felt threatened for their safety,” he said.
Qirngnirq died from his injuries after being medevaced to hospital.
The inquest is being led by Toner and is being presided over by Nunavut chief coroner Khen Sagadraca.
Proceedings are expected to last until Friday when the eight-person jury will deliver a final verdict. Witnesses are expected to give testimonies until Thursday.