Nunavut coroner seeks answers in vehicle deaths

Public inquiry probing deadly municipal road accidents expected in the fall



Nunavut’s coroner plans to launch an inquest into fatal accidents involving municipal vehicles over the past four years.

A six-member jury will sift through testimony and evidence this fall in Iqaluit to pinpoint how four people died in separate accidents, where hamlet and city staff were driving heavy equipment.

The jury will consider three incidents in Iqaluit, and one in Qikiqtarjuaq, and make recommendations to municipal and territorial governments to try to make sure such accidents don’t happen again.

Tim Neily, Nunavut’s chief coroner, said he’s drafting a list of potential witnesses for the inquest, which he expects to take place in the Nunavut courthouse.

Neily said it was “logical” that the municipal staff driving the vehicles that killed the pedestrians will testify. He noted that managers, family members of the victims, and “anyone affected by these events” can request to ask questions at the inquiry.

Lawyers helping the coroner’s office, in this case Chandler and Cooper Barristers and Solicitors, will represent the deceased, and family or friends who can’t afford their own lawyer, Neily said.

Iqaluit city hall has grappled with improving the safety of the capital’s streets, especially after two deaths last year, when a front-loader hit and killed Margaret Jeffrey, a mother carrying her grandchild in an amautik. The child suffered minor injuries, but survived.

The event outraged residents, still reeling from the death of four-year-old Sheila Mathewsie, who died almost instantly when a sewage truck ran over her in April, 2003.

A third resident died in similar conditions on December 6, 2000, when Iyukaq Qupapik, an adult woman, was struck by a front-loader removing snow near the Northmart store.

The inquest will also review the case of three-year-old Adamie Nookiguak, who was killed by a sewage truck in Qikiqtarjuaq, last year.

Neily, who will oversee the inquest proceedings, said although inquests are highly emotional proceedings, they aim to provide a clear picture of events usually mired in rumours about what happened.

Neily said once the facts are established, the jury can recommend how to fix the problems leading to the deaths.

“We look at things dealing with the deceased to protect the living,” he said. “It is an opportunity for the public to… learn what exactly what went on in these deaths.”

Neily’s announcement comes eight months after the latest deadly accident in Iqaluit, when he first talked about holding an inquest. He said in an interview last week that the delay was normal throughout Canada.

Neily stressed that the inquiry cannot happen while police are investigating the events, or charges are pending. He acknowledged that he could not consider launching an inquest involving all four cases, until Crown attorneys dropped charges against Maurice Lachance, accused of driving a vehicle unfit for the road.

Shortly after the accident, Nunavut’s vehicles inspector Tom Braggard found Lachance was driving a sewage truck with malfunctioning brakes, balding tires and a crooked steering column when he hit four-year-old Mathewsie.

Neily said the inquest will not blame anyone for the deaths, but instead aim to make recommendations to various government departments on where improvements are needed.

“We do not and may not deal with anything to do with fault or blame,” he said.

Neily plans to announce the exact date of the inquiry in the coming months.

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