Suicide prevention needs department cooperation, experts tell inquest

Government must improve housing, jobs to prevent deaths, mental health expert testifies at inquest into Charles Qirngnirq’s death

An inquest into the shooting death of Charles Qirngnirq, 21, who died at the Gjoa Haven airport in December 2016, included testimonies from a mental health expert who offered recommendations to help intervene when a person may be suicidal. (File photo)

By Madalyn Howitt

The final witnesses in an inquest into the 2016 police-shooting death of Charles Qirngnirq took the stand Thursday, offering recommendations for how police officers and mental health workers can help prevent potential suicides in Nunavut.

Qirngnirq died when he was shot by then-Constable Ian Crowe at the Gjoa Haven airport. Before he was killed on Dec. 19, Qirngnirq brought a rifle to the airport and was trying to prevent his girlfriend from leaving the community. Throughout the inquest, family members and the RCMP officers who responded to the scene testified that Qirngnirq was making suicidal comments in the lead-up to the shooting.

Victoria Madsen is the acting assistant deputy of quality of life and mental health and addiction with the Government of Nunavut. She said some improvements have been made in mental health resources in the territory since Qirngnirq’s death. One of those is the government’s quality of life program, which includes a suicide prevention action plan that makes mental health outreach to young men in Nunavut a priority.

“When we look at the profile of individuals who die by suicide in Nunavut, there is an inordinate number of [young] men … that died by suicide,” said Madsen. She added that this is true for the rest of North America as well. “We’re going for the young male — that’s the clientele that we’re targeting. That’s what it looks like today. That’s not what it looked like in 2016,” she said.

However, Madsen testified more inter-departmental cooperation on addressing the root causes of suicide is needed to help prevent future deaths in the territory.

“As we try to implement certain things and do certain training, it’s very difficult if it’s always expected to come from the Department of Health,” said Madsen. “I must admit, when you call it ‘mental health,’ we’re less likely to have this population join any of our services. If the other departments, not just health, take an active role in suicide prevention and supporting males and job seeking, then that would help,” she said.

Madsen shared she would like to see government departments rely more on an interagency sharing protocol, where departments can more easily share information known about a subject who may be suicidal, so that appropriate intervention can happen earlier when suicide is not imminent.

“When I think about recommendations, I think about other departments taking on these roles, not just always coming from mental health, and helping adult males have support, housing and productivity,” she said.

Madsen also said that kind of community-specific treatment for mental health issues is often more effective when it comes from hamlets rather than larger cities, because it is localized.

“I would like us to include hamlets and encourage them to have locally grown supports,” she said.

Sgt. Brad Fawcett is an expert in use of force currently in charge of research and special projects with the Vancouver Police Department. Like Madsen, he feels tailoring police resources to the needs of communities will help address the unique issues those communities face.

“I think understanding the social context is very important. It helps gives you some bargaining tools, if you will, when you know some of the issues that perhaps you can use to de-escalate a situation,” explained Fawcett. For example, “can the recruiting process be tailored so that it seeks out officers who have certain traits skills, aptitudes, that will serve them well in this environment?”

“At the end of the day what you’re looking for is a safe resolution,” he said.

The inquest into the circumstances surrounding the death of Qirngnirq is expected to conclude on Friday, when a jury will deliberate and offer a final verdict on the facts of the case. The purpose of an inquest is to make recommendations that might prevent similar deaths.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Watch Dog on

    Territorial election in 2 weeks and we have heard nothing from the candidates. Does it mean they have nothing to say?

    • Posted by Joanasie Akumalik on

      I am running for Iqaluit-Manirajak. Suicide prevention is on my list. My son died by suicide. It’s something that cannot be overlooked.

  2. Posted by Where’s NTI? on

    Did NTI attend this inquest? I don’t know, but assume not. There should be recommendations made that NTI invest a small portion of the well over 1 billion dollars in cash it holds into communities and Inuit directly. And no, an annual barbeque does not count.

    • Posted by Rolling eyes on

      Anything to deflect the incompetence of the GN right, yeah the one time payment NTI got for the Nunavut Agreement should go to the GN mandate ?, all the while the GN gets over 2 BILLION DOLLARS per year.
      It’s funny some of you try to point your finger at NTI instead of demanding better from our GN when they have been doing such a terrible job.
      So many reports and recommendations over the years for the GN to make improvements but it all gets shelved and collects dust, these recommendations will go nowhere also and yet some of you will be demanding NTI to pay for it and do it for the GN, why don’t we just get rid of the GN and have all the funding go into the NTI and RIAs instead, the way the GN has been going it would be a improvement.

      • Posted by Wow on

        Wow! Over 2 billion in one year for the GN!

      • Posted by Rolling more eyes on

        Anything to deflect NTI greed on the GN. No one said GN isn’t incompetent. It is essentially an indigenous government and a good example of what everyone can expect self-government to look like across Canada for all these indigenous groups seeking it. NTI does nothing for the regular Inuit, just the few rich families who live in Ottawa most of the year.

        • Posted by Rolling eyes on

          The GN is far from being an indigenous government, it is a carbon copy of the NWT and southern governments, a revolving door of southern employees and nothing to address that huge problem.
          NTI is tiny compared to our Nunavut Government with over two billion dollars per year budget that doesn’t seem to be enough or that the GN can’t get very much out of it and yet you want NTI to bail them out.
          The GN is a great example of what not to do by trying to cookie cutter how things are done from the south and incorporating in the north.
          It is truly embarrassing how the GN can continue on this road and even more embarrassing that we let them and seek to try and blame another organization for their shortcomings.

  3. Posted by Peter on

    The GN is incapable of doing all these things, too dysfunctional, revolving door of transient workers, no one in the departments want to take the lead, lack of leadership, incompetence to name a few, a overall independent review needs to be done on all the short comings of the GN and changes made to address these areas, we can’t continue on this road, it is only getting worse.
    I hope we get some new capable mlas this fall that will work to make the changes needed, this time without a coup when this is being done to save some of the top bureaucrats.

    • Posted by Empty and Performative on

      You’re right to be cynical, it is almost certain that nothing of substance will follow from the recommendation of this inquest, we all know that and to pretend otherwise is to indulge in self deception for the mere purpose of feeling good.

  4. Posted by We’ll know on

    It’s a well known function of the coroners office with no powers as the Deputy Minister and the police will never let these recommendations be implemented for the improvement of services provided .
    Does anyone hold the coroner accountable to track these recommendations were implemented in a timely manner and provide update to the public ? At the end of the day , it’s an exercise with no outcome.
    Where is the suicide prevention Minister- Georg Hicks who always bragging about this portfolios in public gatherings stating “ I am the only Minister who is responsible in Canada to prevent suicides” what did you do during your tenure and how did you implement any strategies? Where and when ?
    Victoria Madsen has been testifying in the inquests, which includes suicide inquest in 2014 . Has there been any improvements since then in providing services in the remote communities ? How many number of Mental Health Nurses available to provide service in the community?
    Go back into the history of each police involved shooting death recommendations each and every inquest made a similar recommendations stated to have trained officers in deescalating techniques, call medical professionals/ mental health workers to deescalate and no one from Department of Health can tell the public openly on how the progress of these recommendations were analyzed. Waste of time and tax payers money on these inquest.
    No Minister or MLA does anything for us, we have to look after ourselves and watch for the well-being of our friends and family .

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