A public inquiry can achieve things that a coroner’s inquest cannot, said NDP Leader Liz Hanson in an interview Wednesday.
The NDP is calling on the territory to hold an inquiry into the deaths of the four-member Rusk family and their boarder, Donald McNamee. Their bodies were found in their rented Porter Creek home on Jan. 29.
“The scope of what the coroner can comment on – the power, in terms of what they say – is quite limited,” Hanson said.
In this case, more than just the cause of death needs to be scrutinized, she said.
For example, the coroner’s inquest into the 2008 death of Raymond Silverfox in police cells found the 43-year-old Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation man died of natural causes.
That conclusion, while scientifically correct, came after nearly two weeks of testimony that Silverfox was left to lie in his own vomit and excrement for 13 hours. When he’d asked for help, he received none. He was treated with mockery and contempt.
The larger issues, such as the treatment of acutely intoxicated persons, were ignored, she said.
The NDP also called for a public inquiry into Silverfox’s death.
There are also bigger issues of law and policy that should not be ignored in the Rusk-McNamee deaths, she said.
“I don’t believe this was an accident,” said Hanson. “This wasn’t an act-of-God. This was a preventable tragedy. There’s a whole series of interrelated issues here.”
Some of those issues include rental standards, home-inspection standards, mandatory certification for oil-burner mechanics and stronger regulations for that industry.
She also mentioned the reports commissioned by the Yukon Housing Corporation five years ago. They recommended the oil-burner industry be regulated after it was discovered that most equipment was not properly installed or maintained.
“There’s a whole scope of things that could be addressed, that won’t be addressed in a coroner’s inquest,” said Hanson.
“Could something have been prevented? That’s why we’re calling for a public inquiry.
“We’re not questioning that the coroner should do their inquiry. There’s compelling reasons for the coroner to do that. We’re just simply saying that there is a range of issues from CO to landlord-tenant, even whistler-blower protection.”
Under the Public Inquiries Act, it is the territorial government that has the authority to call a public inquiry.
“It’s the cabinet that makes the decision to call for a public inquiry into a matter of public concern,” Hanson said.
“They appoint somebody, maybe one or more people, to conduct that inquiry and … they have the power of a civil court to call witnesses and compel people to testify.”
Apart from issuing a news release demanding the government call an inquiry into the Porter Creek tragedy, the NDP has not directly contacted the government about this issue, she said.
“Quite frankly, any requests I’ve had to meet with the premier have not been successful,” she said. “So this will just be added to the list.”
In response to the NDP release, the government simply repeated what it’s been saying all along.
“A number of investigative bodies have been involved in looking into the details and circumstances surrounding those deaths,” said cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman.
“We have said from pretty much the beginning that we feel the appropriate course of action is to allow the authorities to do their jobs, to complete their investigations and then once the investigations are complete and we have a chance to carefully review the results and reports, it’s at that time that we can consider what actions might be required.
“We’re still sticking with that until we have the chance to look through the materials.”
The RCMP finished its investigation in the first few days of February.
Fire marshal Dennis Berry, who reports to the Department of Community Services, finished and submitted his report to the RCMP and the coroner “weeks ago,” according to a spokesperson for that department.
The coroner has already received toxicology reports from a Vancouver lab confirming that Valerie Rusk and her children, Gabriel and Rebekah, all died from high levels of carbon monoxide in their bodies.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at