Inquest into Inuk man’s police shooting death begins in Sanirajak
Jeremy Nuvviaq, 39, died after RCMP officers were called to his home
An inquest into the 2017 death of an Inuk man in Sanirajak began Monday with emotional testimony from friends and family describing the day he was killed.
Jeremy Nuvviaq, 39, died on May 1, 2017 after being shot by RCMP officers who were called to his home in the community also known as Hall Beach, a hamlet of just under 900 people.
Earlier that evening, Nuvviaq had been livestreaming a video from his Facebook page in which he threatened “suicide by cop.”
In his opening statement, coroner’s counsel Sheldon Toner explained that the inquest is meant to provide transparency about what happened almost five years ago.
“It’s been a long time and I know Jeremy’s family wants some answers. I hope they get some answers through this process and that the community does as well, so that you know truthfully what happened on that day,” Toner said.
Nuvviaq’s stepdaughter, Leslie Morgan, said that on the night of May 1, she saw posts on Nuvviaq’s Facebook page saying that someone had a gun and to send help to his home. Another post said: “This is how you do suicide by cop.”
Morgan said she tried video-calling Nuvviaq to find out what was happening but couldn’t reach him. She later saw him go live on Facebook, brandishing what appeared to be a toy gun underneath a towel.
Nuvviaq’s common-law partner for about six years, Vitaline Morgan, testified that in the months leading up to his death, Nuvviaq’s behaviour “had changed” and he had been hearing “voices in his head” telling him “he should die.”
The couple lived together and shared two adopted sons, in addition to several stepchildren.
She described Nuvviaq as “a good father” to their children but said he would sometimes become violent towards her after drinking.
Several other witnesses testified that Nuvviaq’s drinking sometimes led to violent outbursts.
Jacky Nuvviaq said that his younger brother Nuvviaq would often tell him “when he had issues,” but that he was hard to reason with when he had been drinking. Leslie Morgan said that Nuvviaq “was OK when he wasn’t drunk, but when he was drunk, he was someone else.”
Jason Dawson is the former manager of a moving company in Iqaluit where Nuvviaq once worked as a driver. The two kept in touch periodically over social media in the following years. Dawson testified that while driving home from work on May 1 in Vancouver, he checked Facebook and saw that Nuvviaq was livestreaming a video.
“The first thing I heard was like a slide. Sounded like metal on metal like a bolt in a gun, and that’s why I stopped and listened,” he said.
He said the video showed Nuvviaq holding what appeared to be a pink and green gun.
“I was able to see that he was highly intoxicated and very upset and he seemed to have a toy gun and he was trying to put a towel on top of it. He was yelling about suicide by police and things like that,” Dawson testified.
“Suicide by cop,” also known as victim precipitated suicide, is a phenomenon that has been recognized by police forces since the 1980s. It is when an individual who wants to die but wants someone else to kill them, so deliberately creates a situation in which a police officer is forced to shoot them.
Dawson said he noticed comments on the video suggesting that someone had already called the police, so he called the RCMP dispatch number for Sanirajak to warn them that what Nuvviaq was holding was a toy gun.
Dawson said he wanted to tell police that Nuvviaq was holding a toy gun because they might approach him differently from someone with a real gun.
Following Nuvviaq’s death, an Ottawa Police Service investigation concluded that it was Nuvviaq himself who had also called the police to his home.
Dawson said the dispatch officer who answered the phone asked him to describe what was happening in Nuvviaq’s livestream.
“I remember at some point, Jeremy stepped in and out of frame because it seemed like he was looking at the door like somebody had knocked or something,” Dawson said. The video ended moments later.
Dawson recalled telling Ottawa police detectives afterwards that Nuvviaq seemed to be “in despair” in the video.
“I grew up in America, where the police were more or less just one more of hundreds of gangs. It’s dangerous and violent at times. If you get caught holding a toy gun, a police officer might kill you, and I thought, if I tell him that it was a toy that I could save his life,” Dawson said.
The RCMP officers involved in the incident and the Ottawa investigators are expected to testify later this week. Other expert witnesses will include mental health and medical professionals.
Nunavut chief coroner Khen Sagadraca is presiding over the inquest and the RCMP counsel is Chris Bernier. It is expected to conclude on Thursday with the seven-member jury issuing a verdict and offering recommendations to prevent similar deaths from happening in the future.
Resources for people in distress who need to talk to someone
Kamatsiaqtut Help Line is Nunavut-specific and offers services in Inuktitut. Phone: 979-3333 for Iqaluit residents and 1-800-265-3333 for other Nunavummiut.
The First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline: 1-855-242-3310 or chat online at hopeforwellness.ca.