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Two sudden deaths in Whitehorse, Mayo: RCMP

Privacy considerations face off against the public’s right to know
A man with roses attends a vigil outside the Whitehorse shelter in January. With less public reporting, more Yukoners are learning about sudden deaths through Facebook. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)

Two Yukoners died suddenly on Dec. 1 in Mayo and Whitehorse, according to community reports confirmed by the RCMP.

Police confirmed the deaths on Dec. 8 and 9, respectively.

On Dec. 8, Andrea Takasaki, the director of communications and engagement for Connective (the organization who now operates the Whitehorse emergency shelter) wrote an email acknowledging that there had been an “incident” at the Whitehorse shelter they were working to understand. She said, “as more information is available that can be shared with the public, we would be happy to provide an update.”

Days later, she wrote an update saying that Connective will not be commenting on the nature of incidents that occur at the shelter at all. She cited respect of the shelter residents.

“That includes protecting everyone’s privacy at all times — including when authorities may be engaged at the shelter,” Takasaki said.

As of press time, the Yukon coroner’s office had not released any additional information on the deaths.

There has been a marked drop in public notices of sudden death in recent years, even as the toll of the toxic drug crisis rises.

On Nov. 22, Chief Coroner Heather Jones told the News that 21 people have died from illicit drug deaths in 2022. The last public notice on toxic deaths was issued on Aug. 5, when the number of deaths was at 17.

On Nov. 28, a spokesperson for Health and Social Services confirmed 22 deaths.

According to a recent health status report, 24 Yukoners died from opioids in 2021.

The chief coroner has only issued four public notices so far in 2022, three of which broadly updated the drug death numbers. In 2021, the coroner issued 15 public notices.

Up until 2019, brief summaries called “judgements of inquiry” were posted on the coroner’s web page. (Summaries are still posted for deaths between 2013 and 2019.) These reports provided facts and circumstances surrounding an unexpected death, and in some cases provided recommendations to prevent similar events in the future.

The Yukon passed a new Coroners Act in August 2021. The legislation gives the coroner discretion to assess public interest and whether it outweighs the privacy interests of the individual whose information would be disclosed. Regardless of whether it’s published, the coroner must provide a report to the Justice minister and the family of the deceased.

As public announcements on deaths become infrequent, Yukoners are relying on Facebook for updates, according to Aja Mason, executive director of the Yukon Status of Women Council.

She reminds that Yukon people live in a space where there’s few degrees of separation between deaths and the larger community. Many people know what is going on, but Mason says the lack of coroner’s reports contribute to a shield around important data.

She also noted the Yukon government’s lack of transparency on unexpected deaths, citing privacy laws as an excuse.

“Everybody knows anyway, and yet the government is refusing to aggregate statistics so that we can help them to be more accountable,” Mason said.

“The government is citing privacy legislation as a way to avoid addressing the issues in a more systemic way.”

Contact Lawrie Crawford at