Nunavik family still has questions and frustrations, three years after man’s death

Jimmy Sivuak Eliyassialuk died in 2017 while detained in a cell here, at the Kativik Regional Police Force station in Puvirnituq. (File photo)

By Sarah Rogers

A Puvirnituq family says it feels left in the dark about how a young man died in a jail cell in 2017.

Jimmy Eliyassialuk, commonly known by his middle name, Sivuak, died on April 28, 2017, while in custody at the Kativik Regional Police Force detachment in his hometown of Puvirnituq.

An investigation has since cleared the police officers who apprehended Eliyassialuk that day of any criminal negligence or wrongdoing in relation to his death.

A coroner’s report was only made public earlier this year, as first reported by APTN. The coroner’s office concluded that the 22-year-old man died of alcohol poisoning.

But the Eliyassialuk family said they’ve received very little information from authorities about how the young man ended up dead.

Reports from Quebec’s coroner’s office take an average of 10 months to be completed and released, but the family didn’t receive the report with the details of Eliyassialuk’s death until August 2020—more than three years after his death and following repeated requests from an APTN reporter.

“They took a really long time,” said Freddie Eliyassialuk, Jimmy’s older sister. “The documents were all in French and no one in our family speaks French. We had to use Google to translate it.”

The report, prepared by Quebec coroner Steeve Poisson and dated June 2020, provided details about the hours leading up to Eliyassialuk’s death.

On April 28, 2017, at about 9:30 a.m., a resident called the KRPF complaining about intoxicated house guests.

KRPF officers arrived at the home and took two people with them—Eliyassialuk and one other person. Police drove the other individual home, but when Eliyassialuk fell asleep in the cruiser, officers opted to take him to the detachment to sober up. He was not under arrest.

The report said that officers placed Eliyassialuk on the cell floor on his stomach, so he wouldn’t choke if he vomited.

Later, at about 5:15 p.m., a civilian cell guard contacted the police when Eliyassialuk wouldn’t respond.

The police returned to find him in the same position but unconscious. He was declared dead shortly afterwards at the local health centre.

The coroner noted there was foam in Eliyassialuk’s trachea, and his lungs were swollen with accumulated fluid. The coroner could not rule out the possibility that Eliyassialuk had died from positional asphyxia, but he concluded that Eliyassialuk died of alcohol poisoning.

The BEI, which investigates incidents when people are seriously injured or killed during police interventions, found the officers did not use any force or recklessness that would have contributed to Eliyassialuk’s death.

In March 2019, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office concluded that the officers who took Eliyassialuk into custody that day were not criminally negligent or responsible for his death.

“I don’t really know what happened to my brother that day,” said Freddie Eliyassialuk. “It feels like [neglect] from the police, but the [Bureau des enquêtes indépendantes] and police say it wasn’t.”

Eliyassialuk recalled the day of her brother’s death; she said the police never contacted the family to let them know he was in detention, even after the man’s girlfriend called the detachment to inquire.

“We were searching for him all day,” she said. “Someone came from the church that evening to tell us he had passed.”

Eliyassialuk said she later learned that there was no guard working at the KRPF detachment until 4 p.m. that day, meaning her brother could have been left alone for several hours that day. She said the police need to take better care of detainees, especially intoxicated ones.

The Eliyassialuk family remembers Sivuak as an avid hunter who took care of those around him. He worked in housing maintenance for the local hospital’s staff housing.

“He was really friendly and he always respected others,” said Eliyassialuk.

“We don’t know what to do now.”

A spokesperson from Quebec’s coroner’s office said she couldn’t comment on the delay in completing and releasing Eliyassialuk’s report, calling it “a complex case.”

But the office’s chief coroner told APTN that the delay was the office’s own error.

One of the recommendations that flowed from Quebec’s Viens Commission—an inquiry that looked at how Indigenous people are served by the province’s public service—called for liaison officers and, in Nunavik’s case, more Inuktitut-language communication from southern institutions that serve the region.

A spokesperson for the coroner’s office said it has created a new committee called Mortality in Indigenous and Inuit Communities to look at how the organization works with those communities, though the spokesperson said the committee has yet to start work due to COVID-19-related delays.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Should not be in vein on

    The saddest again. The alcohol. If Nunavik is having so much death from alcohol, and if people are saying that police should treat intoxicated persons with more respect, than let’s look at the situation from a police training point of view, only to bring the problem of alcohol closer to its destructive roots in Nunavik. If police are to treat the intoxicating human with professionalism and skill, then that needs to be taught in police training school. Now, what we’re getting for Nunavik is special police training to handle the alcohol problem. This would highlight the problem big time, but what kind of society would accommodate that, rather then dealing with the alcohol problem by taking it away from Nunavik? I’m betting no police would want to be trained to live their life dealing with drunk people, even thou policing in Nunavik is all about dealing with drunks 24/7. Bottom line outlaw alcohol in Nunavik, oh yes prohibition don’t work. Let me tell you something: non prohibition is not doing a good job either.

    • Posted by Prohibition is the past, not the future. on

      Policing in Nunavik is not “all about dealing with drunks 24/7”.
      That’s too simple a way to look at the incredibly complex situation in policing in the north. Undertrained, understaffed, undersupported police forces largely experiencing culture shock making things difficult far from what they know? A system unable to work in the language of most people they interact with causing issues? Terrible cycles of abuse and depression from harm done to our parents and their parents? Spiraling cycles of suicide making people think their life is worthless? No real way for a big chunk of people to get employment that supports them enough and helps give them pride in their days? Living in cramped conditions with 5+ people causing arguments and conflict? Do those play into crimes and issues of policing in Nunavik? Nope, it’s all just booze’s fault, apparently. Who knew?
      Meanwhile, going back to full prohibition is the solution. Despite it been proven not to work for decades and decades and decades anywhere, and causes people to deal with organized crime and bootlegging instead of just buying a regulated amount from community co-ops which pay dividends back.
      Prohibition was not the answer to alcohol in the south in the time before my grandparents were born. Prohibition was not the answer to cannabis consumption either, which is why it was legalized a few years ago. But apparently prohibition and pushing people towards bootleggers is the solution again now, because apparently booze is the only reason things aren’t perfect up here.
      Alcohol consumption is a symptom of everything up here, not the disease overall.
      Too bad there’s no stats on consumption rates now and then in Nunavik, I’d be willing to bet things have improved in my once-dry community since alcohol sales were allowed, and that my generation consumes less alcohol than my parents’ generation. I think that’s the case because it’s being regulated and controlled, and is less attached to the criminal lifestyle of bootlegging and being ‘cool’. I doubt those who thought it was cool to sneak drinks underage and know criminals now think it’s just as appealing to stand in line at the co-op, or be a cashier at a store instead of a bootlegger.
      If we pretend prohibition is the future rather than the past, we just push every bit of progress that comes with regulating alcohol consumption out the window so we can pretend ignoring things is the answer once again. People who have problems with alcohol will feel like criminals again and be afraid to talk about their issues and get treatment.
      If you think prohibition is the answer to alcohol problems and crime, clearly you have never been to ‘dry communities’ in the high arctic where there is more crime related to alcohol and less support to beat alcoholism, and small bottles of booze or beer go for hundreds of dollars straight into the pockets of criminal bootleggers.
      Prohibition creates crime, it doesn’t solve it.

    • Posted by Erica on

      Idiot! Police shouldn’t be bringing intoxicated people to the jail to sober up! Bring them to the hospital so they can have health care take care of them! He was unconscious cause he was so drunk, they could of brought him to the hospital! In Montreal, when a person is way too intoxicated and passed out they bring that person to the hospital! Not in fucking jail and have nobody to take care of that person! Pissed off at KRPF they’re not professionals!

      • Posted by David on

        That isn’t true.

        Police in Montreal do not take drunks to the hospital to sober up, nor does any city or province. There are taken to the “Drunk Tank”.

        There are no holding cells in hospitals which means police must wait with the person in custody, which is an absolute waste of resources.

        • Posted by Erica on

          Ok David, i am talking from what i know, i wouldn’t write a random comment just for the fun of it! Yes, in Montreal an intoxicated person was so intoxicated she had passed out at the airport and she couldn’t wake up, she was brought to the hospital to be taken care of by a health care and NO there was no police escorting her, she was given IV and she is still living today, she probably would of “ died from alcohol poisoning “ if she wasn’t brought to the hospital. Which in this case, that is similar, he had “passed out” in the police car and “couldn’t wake up” as they say and they brought him to jail. Idiot!

          • Posted by Agree with that , with a but on

            Yes, I agree intoxicated person could require medical attention, but let’s look at Nunavik closely for a moment with the alcohol situation of drunks. It’s actually dangerous to be even outside somewhere in Nunavik and not be drunk , but be having a medical problem ! Like fainting, or stroke , heart attack for example. Whereby these conditions can be systematically similar to intoxication! The patients could be left to died, assuming it’s just another drunk. But after saying that, let’s see where the common drunk it making it difficult for the whole population. The assumption of drunkenness and just that without medical problems is so common, it’s fooling even the police and other professionals, in a cry wolf situation! Like we see so much of it that we ignore when a real medical emergency do come about. People have to be more responsible, plus yes police need more training. But it’s also the society that is abusing alcohol too. Two way street. Humans get use to what’s common! And unfortunately make assumptions.

  2. Posted by Why even question? on

    If things happened to every other person the way it did for this youngster, there would be a death every single day. All the injuries, accidents, homicides, suicides and the despair is part of what police are expected to take care of day in and day out.

    Time to drink responsibly or not at all.

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