The Yukon Coroner’s Service will proceed with an inquest into the deaths of two women on the same day at the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter this January. Notice of the inquest came on the heels of new information about 2022’s drug fatalities in the Yukon that are nearing last year’s record breaking death toll.
According to an Aug. 5 notice from the coroner’s service, 34-year-old Myranda Tizya-Charlie and 35-year-old Cassandra Warville died at the shelter on Jan. 19. Their deaths were found to be the result of toxic illicit drugs.
The Yukon’s Chief Coroner Heather Jones has determined that an inquest into the facts and circumstances of their deaths should be held. The Aug. 5 notice says Jones will appoint a presiding coroner to conduct the inquest. After the presiding coroner is named, the time and place for the inquest will be fixed.
An Aug. 4 notice from the coroner’s service details the situation in the territory relating to illicit drug deaths. It states that since the start of 2022, toxic illicit drugs have claimed the lives of 17 Yukoners. Strong evidence suggests that number will increase by three more people pending toxicological analysis in those cases. Last year was record-setting when it comes to drug deaths in the Yukon with a total of 25 lives lost — the chief coroner calls this number “catastrophic” in the Aug. 4 notice.
The drug deaths this year represent 33 per cent of all cases investigated by the coroner’s service.
“Opioids in the form of fentanyl continue to be present in the majority of the fatalities. The Yukon has now recorded 71 opioid-related deaths since April of 2016. Each one of these deaths was preventable and our communities continue to struggle with the grief and pain associated with the loss of life from the substance use health crisis,” the notice reads.
According to the coroner, 14 of 17 deaths occurred in Whitehorse. Nine of those who died were men and eight were women, they ranged in ages from 26- to 73-years-old. Twelve of those who died, 71 per cent of all the drug deaths, were First Nations citizens.
Fentanyl was involved in 14 of the deaths and the coroner’s service also confirmed cocaine use in 12 cases and benzodiazapines in six.
In her statement on the drug-related death statistics, Jones discussed British Columbia’s move this year to remove criminal penalties for the possession of limited quantities of hard drugs for personal use.
“This encourages the shift of resources from a justice model to one that is health and social service based and acknowledges substance use to be a medical issue rather than increasing stigmatization through criminalization. As we have seen so often, this leaves many unable to access lifesaving supports and services, dying alone. YCS is encouraged by the Minister’s recent statement that Yukon is considering a similar move as was seen in B.C,” Jones’ statement reads.
“In addition to decriminalization, YCS strongly advocates a means of providing access to a safe drug supply as we continue to see the impact of each lost life.”
The statement notes that the Yukon continues to lead Canada in per-capita drug deaths, leaving few people not directly affected.
Contact Jim Elliot at email@example.com