Yukon’s acting chief coroner appeals inquest order

Yukon’s acting chief coroner is appealing a Yukon Supreme Court decision ordering an inquest into the death of a First Nation woman in Carmacks in 2013.

Yukon’s acting chief coroner is appealing a Yukon Supreme Court decision ordering an inquest into the death of a First Nation woman in Carmacks in 2013.

Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale had ordered an inquest into the death of Cynthia Blackjack, finding that Chief Coroner Kirsten Macdonald had failed to investigate systemic discrimination allegations against First Nation citizens in the health system.

Acting chief coroner Heather Jones filed the appeal notice March 31.

She told the News she wouldn’t comment the decision to appeal.

Macdonald is on an extended leave, Jones said.

The notice of appeal doesn’t specify the grounds for appealing Veale’s decision. The coroner wants Veale’s order set aside and the original decision to not hold an inquest to be upheld. The coroner’s office is also seeking to have its legal costs paid for the appeal by the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, who challenged Macdonald’s decision.

According to the Yukon Court of Appeal guidelines, the coroner has until April 30 to file reasons for having the case heard.

Blackjack died in November 2013 while she was being medevaced from Carmacks to Whitehorse.

She went to the health centre on Nov. 6, 2013 complaining of a toothache, abdominal pain and vomiting, and was told to make her way to Whitehorse General Hospital. She didn’t and her relatives phoned the health centre the next day because she was screaming in pain.

At 11 a.m. that day medical staff decided she needed to be medevaced. But as a result of a number of errors, she was only ready to be airlifted six hours after the decision to medevac her was first made.

In her report, Macdonald detailed those technical errors, from the wrong kind of medical tubing brought aboard the medevac flight to the ventilator tubing circuit failing at the health centre.

But her report report focused on the technical medical aspect of Blackjack’s death, Veale wrote in his decision.

She refused to include information that would attribute fault or criticize the medical personnel.

Part of the role of a public inquest is to ensure the public confidence in health services, Veale wrote.

“It is difficult to imagine how the chief coroner can fulfill that mandate when she will not impute fault or criticism toward any of the personnel or their practices,” Veale wrote. Nothing in the Coroners Act prevented her from doing that, he added.

Macdonald also didn’t investigate why it took over an hour to send an ambulance from the health centre to pick up Blackjack.

In March 2015 LSCFN asked that a public inquest be held but Macdonald refused. Eventually they, alongside Cynthia’s mother Theresa Blackjack, turned to the Yukon Supreme Court.

They alleged systematic discrimination against First Nation citizens took place in the health care system.

“I am aware that various stereotypes play a big role in the manner how health care services are provided and that these stereotypes are the root causes of the underlying deficiencies in health care services with deadly results,” Rachel Byers, LSCFN’s director of health and social programs, wrote in an affidavit at the time.

Theresa alleged her daughter was treated differently because she was Indigenous. She wondered why the Blackjack family had “to threaten … legal action before the ambulance picked her up on Nov. 7, 2013?”

Calls to LSCFN were not returned by deadline early April 3.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com