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
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.