The coroner’s inquest into the death of Cynthia Blackjack, a Yukon First Nations woman who died during a 2013 medevac, will begin in Carmacks before moving to Whitehorse.
Debbie Hoffman, the coroner’s counsel for the inquest, confirmed the locations in a press release Jan. 8.
The first two days, Jan. 20 and 21, will be held in Blackjack’s home community of Carmacks at the community centre before moving to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre until its scheduled conclusion on Jan. 31.
Peter Chisholm, the chief judge of the Yukon territorial court, was appointed as a coroner in 2019 and will be presiding over the inquest, which will examine what role, if any, systemic racism played in Blackjack’s death.
Blackjack, a 31-year-old citizen of Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation, died on Nov. 7, 2013, while being medevaced from Carmacks to Whitehorse.
In the days leading up to her death, Blackjack had called the Carmacks health centre complaining of dental pain, showing up for an in-person assessment the day before.
Staff noted she had dental decay and that the left side of her face was slightly swollen. They tentatively diagnosed her with alcohol-induced gastritis and told her to go to Whitehorse General Hospital, but were unable to arrange transportation for her.
A family member of Blackjack’s called the health centre the next day to report that Blackjack was disoriented and screaming in pain. She was transported to the health centre and staff made the decision to medevac her to Whitehorse around 11 a.m., but, due to a series of mistakes and equipment issues, Blackjack wasn’t airborne until nearly six hours later.
She died minutes before the medevac landed in Whitehorse.
An autopsy determined that she died of multi-organ failure triggered by hyperacute liver failure. It also found that Blackjack had “very severe tooth decay,” “evolving acute respiratory distress syndrome” and a “grossly pale and fatty” liver.
The inquest comes after years of legal battles between the Yukon Coroner’s Office, Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation (LS/CFN) and Blackjack’s family.
The First Nation and Blackjack’s mother, Theresa, have long alleged that systemic racism in the Yukon’s healthcare system played a role in Blackjack’s death, and began pushing for an inquiry after she died.
However, the Yukon’s chief coroner at the time, Kirsten Macdonald, said her office was not in a position to investigate issues like racism and refused the requests.
LS/CFN and Theresa took Macdonald to court, with Yukon Supreme Justice Ron Veale ultimately ordering an inquest to be performed.
Macdonald, who’s since been replaced by Heather Jones, unsuccessfully appealed that decision.
Separately, Blackjack’s mother also filed a lawsuit against the Yukon government, the Carmacks health centre and health centre staff alleging that their negligence caused her daughter’s death.
That lawsuit was dismissed in September 2019 after the parties apparently reached a settlement.
Contact Jackie Hong at email@example.com