Inquest jury rules Sanirajak man’s death a homicide
Coroner and RCMP lawyers had argued Jeremy Nuvviaq died by ‘suicide by cop’ in 2017
An inquest into the death of Jeremy Nuvviaq came to a close Thursday with the jury delivering a verdict that his death was a homicide, but offering key recommendations to support people at risk of suicide.
The 39-year-old Sanirajak man died late on the night of May 1, 2017 after he was shot by one of two RCMP officers who had been called to his home. Earlier that evening, Nuvviaq had been livestreaming on Facebook, saying “this is how you suicide by cop” and holding what people who watched the video described as a toy handgun covered by a towel.
He later carried a different gun — a long-barrelled pellet gun — outside and aimed it at the officers who arrived at his house. He was then shot by Const. Stephen Currie.
In their closing statements coroner’s counsel Sheldon Toner and RCMP counsel Chris Bernier had each argued the manner in which Nuvviaq died was “suicide by cop,” citing evidence that Nuvviaq intended for the officer to kill him. The purpose of a coroner’s inquest is not to determine guilt, but to examine the facts of the case and make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.
“This isn’t a case where Jeremy fired the fatal shot,” Toner said. “Jeremy applied the means to end his life by putting police in a situation where they had no choice but to act as his hand.”
The seven-member jury disagreed, however, saying Nuvviaq’s death was instead a homicide and that the high threshold of what constitutes a suicide had not been met.
The jury cited witness testimony given during the four-day inquest that the RCMP and Nuvviaq “did not get along,” owing to the latter’s previous run-ins with police. Nuvviaq had been convicted of assault in the past and was on probation at the time of his death.
While the jury acknowledged that Currie feared for his life when Nuvviaq pointed what the police officer believed was a rifle at him, jurors felt more could have been done to prevent Nuvviaq’s death before Currie fired the fatal gunshot, thereby rendering it a homicide.
Despite concluding Nuvviaq’s death was a homicide, the jury recognized the potential impacts that suicide prevention training could have in mitigating similar deaths.
The jury offered 17 recommendations to the RCMP and to the Government of Nunavut, including:
- All RCMP officers stationed in Nunavut should receive specialized training in how to avoid potential “suicide by cop” attempts through scenario-based training and suicide first aid training.
- All RCMP officers in Nunavut should receive more specialized training in de-escalation techniques on an annual or semi-annual basis.
- Making housing issues and challenges more transparent and give people more information about getting housing to help minimize suicide risk.
- Having teams of mental health workers in Nunavut communities enhance cooperation with the RCMP and provide the tools for mental health professionals and RCMP officers to share information with each other about individuals at potential risk for suicide.
- Providing consistent funding for Embrace Life counselling to help provide suicide prevention education on a consistent basis to the public.
- Supporting the formation of community men’s groups to help young men share information and resources for suicide prevention.
Prior to the jury’s deliberations, a representative for Nuvviaq’s family gave a statement to the jury expressing sorrow at the outcome of Nuvviaq’s encounter with police, but acknowledging the potential threat that Nuvviaq’s actions posed to the officers’ safety and to the safety of the public. The statement was read in Inuktitut and translated into English by an interpreter.
Throughout the four-day inquest, the complex and emotional issues surrounding suicide prevention in Nunavut were brought to light in testimonies from Nuvviaq’s friends and family and members of the community.
Sgt. Brad Fawcett, an expert in police use of force, gave testimony acknowledging that “suicide by cop” can be difficult to identify even after the fact. Some deaths can better be classified as “death by indifference” when the victim appears not to care what happens to him or her, but isn’t actively wishing to die by suicide, he said.
Victoria Madsen, assistant deputy minister of the GN’s mental health and suicide prevention programs, said she wants to see more transparency Nunavummiut as to “what the housing plan is” in the territory.
“Why are there empty units in every community? We have such housing needs, I think that there would be less distress if we understood what the plan is and why there seems to be minimal improvement, if any,” she said in her testimony.
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.