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Coroner reports on suicide

Recommends police be stationed in every community

Lynn Lau
Northern News Services

Inuvik (Dec 17/01) - The chief coroner is recommending that a police presence be established in every community after the suicide of a Tsiigehtchic man last winter.

In the report, dated Oct. 1, Percy Kinney suggests that the lack of a police presence in the community may have contributed to the death.

According to Kinney's report, the 31-year-old man was discovered dead last Jan. 4 at 1:15 p.m. He had a history of suicidal tendencies and alcohol abuse. That morning, he called his estranged partner in Fort McPherson and threatened to shoot himself if she did not return home. She phoned family in Tsiigehtchic and subsequent calls were made to the bylaw officer, alcohol and drug counsellors and other residents.

The RCMP in Fort McPherson, about a half hour away, were called at 10:45 a.m., but they didn't decide to dispatch an officer until two hours later. While police were on the way, a community member gained entry to the residence and discovered the man dead. Police arrived shortly after the discovery.

If the initial response had been more prompt, Kinney says there's a chance the man's life could have been saved. "Certainly in our minds, it spotlighted the lack of police presence in the community as an issue."

In his report, Kinney also recommends the community create a concerted plan so people know how to respond to a suicide threat.

"Right now, it's nobody's job to (check on a suicidal person). I think the community does need to make sure ... when something does happen, people aren't running around wondering what to do."

The victim's mother, Grace Blake, says she agrees with the recommendations, but she's not sure they would have helped in her son's case.

"The amazing thing is that people, they say he was so happy when they saw him last. He had already decided. I think it's inevitable when someone has made up their mind that clearly."

Still, Blake says the community plan is a good idea, and she would also like to see a full-time mental health worker and RCMP officer stationed there.

"We have to prevent that next one from happening and to do that we need expertise ... It always goes back to the government, whether they have money to do this and that. It's always the same reply. The cost is always the deciding factor to do nothing."

According to the RCMP in Fort McPherson, changes have since been made to the way the detachment deals with suicide threats.

"We do attend all threats of suicide no matter how many times they have threatened it," says Sgt. Kurt Lozinski, who took over the detachment in July. "Sometimes you make a judgment call that you find out perhaps may have been incorrect. However we will attend immediately in all such cases."

Lozinski says he met with other community agencies when he arrived to smooth out a plan for dealing with suicide threats. "I know in the settlements I've been in there been a big turnaround in personnel with health services, social services and ourselves. So people don't always know what their roles and responsibilities are. We now have it on paper, in a report that everyone reads."

Lozinski has also dedicated one police officer in the detachment to be in charge of regular patrols in Tsiigehtchic. The same officer will also be teaching the RCMP's drug and alcohol program at the school for the first time starting next fall.

The Department of Justice, and Health and Social Services say the chief coroner's recommendations are under review.