The coroner won’t release her report on the death of 28-year-old Jean-Francois Page until facts are presented in court against his former employer, Aurora Geosciences Ltd.
Page was killed by a female grizzly in April 2006 after walking within five metres of her den and cubs while flagging a claim 30 kilometres east of Ross River.
Chief coroner Sharon Hanley had intended to release her “judgment of inquiry” in early June, according to Yukon Workers Compensation Health and Safety Board spokesman Mark Hill.
“Well, that was the original idea, but after further thought and consideration I’m going to delay my report until some of those facts come out in court and both sides address the situation before I make conclusions and recommendations,” said Hanley.
Hanley investigates unexpected or unnatural deaths, either through a public inquest or privately as judgment of inquiry.
“This document provides a summary of all the facts surrounding the death and is another mechanism for making recommendations for prevention,” said the coroner’s website.
“It’s just a decision I made because I feel that both sides will speak of it in court and then that will help me go towards making recommendations as well,” said Hanley.
While the coroner’s report is not being released publicly, it is also not officially part of the case against Aurora Geosciences.
Hanley’s report contains the same information that Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board had access to for its report — a report that formed the basis of the Crown’s charges against the exploration company.
“It’s no difference than Occupational Health and Safety making a report except they’re the experts in workplace death,” she said.
The details behind the Crown’s charges have also not been made public.
The five charges laid under sections 3 and 7 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act claim that Jean-Francois Page was given incomplete training and was unaware of the hazards he faced, that he was not properly equipped to defend himself, and that he had been placed in an inherently unsafe situation by his employers.
Department of Justice assistant deputy minister Thomas Ullyett, could not confirm whether Crown intended to use the coroner’s report in the prosecution, or whether the same information was duplicated in the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board’s report.
“Is one process relevant to the other? Really, that question is a live one and may well be before the court,” said Ullyet.
Because Coroner’s Services is an independent body at arms-length from the Justice department, Crown counsels do not automatically have access to the coroner’s report.
They may request it, and even subpoena it, in which case they’d be expected to share the report with the defence as part of the process of disclosure.
“The reality is that the only way that Aurora is going to get that report is if that report is made public,” said Aurora’s lawyer Keith Parkkari.
Even though it has implications for public safety, Hanley doesn’t believe her conclusions should enter the legal fray for the time being.
“My report has got nothing to do with the evidence that’s going to be put forth in court. That’s going to come from Occupational Health and Safety — who has everything that we have,” said Hanley.
For the sake of fairness, Hanley would like to issue her conclusions only after the parties have publicly aired their arguments.
Until then, she will hold off.
“That’s what I’m going to do for now, but if it drags on I’m going to make my recommendations,” said Hanley.
It’s not uncommon for a coroner’s report to be released at the conclusion of a court case, said BC assistant deputy chief coroner Jeff Dolan.
“I know that in British Columbia the coroner’s report is always the last one to be released,” he said.
“As to why they may choose not the enter the report, it may be due to the fact that they could be calling witnesses who are able to give the information firsthand,” said Dolan.
Aurora Geosciences is scheduled to issue pleas in territorial court on June 26 in Whitehorse.