Makibi Timilak coroner's inquest looks to answer lingering questions

Lingering questions in Cape Dorset baby death hope to be answered in inquest

'I hope the truth will come out,' says Timilak's father

Luutaaq Qaumagiaq holds his son, Makibi Timilak. "We need to know why he died to try and help out other Inuit so that they won't have to go through what we went through," he said. (Submitted by Luutaaq Qaumagiaq)

The father of Makibi Timilak is still troubled by the death of his three-month old baby in 2012 and hopes an inquest will help answer lingering questions about the night his son died.

"We need to know why he died, to try and help out other Inuit so that they won't have to go through what we went through," Luutaaq Qaumagiaq said by telephone from Cape Dorset. 

"I hope the truth will come out."

On Tuesday, Nunavut's Chief Coroner announced an inquest will be held into the death of Timilak after his family made a formal request to the territory's minister of justice. 

No date has been set though the inquest will take place in Cape Dorset.

N.W.T. coroner Garth Eggenberger, who recently led the inquest into the high number of suicides in Nunavut, will preside over the case.

"The chief coroner of Nunavut has directed me to hold an inquest into the death of the three month old baby," Eggenberger said.

"They're going to be sending us the file, that would be the coroner's council and myself. We'll review it and then we'll decide on the witnesses and try and set a schedule."

Eggenberger said six Cape Dorset residents will be selected as jury members.

The call to hold a coroner's inquest comes following a review into the circumstances of Timilak's death, prompted by a CBC News investigation.

A report last year authored by retired lawyer Katherine Peterson made dozens of recommendations, including a call for an inquest.

She points to two questions she hopes will be answered.

What happened the night Makibi Timilak died?

Timilak's parents allege Debbie McKeown, the nurse on call at the Cape Dorset Health Centre the night he died, denied their request to see the baby.

"I wasn't able to speak with nurse McKeown with respect to what she might say transpired at the time in question when she was initially contacted. There is some evidence what transpired from the parents but I think some of those factual issues could be clarified by having an inquest and exploring them," Peterson said.

McKeown is involved in a civil suit over the suspension of her nursing licence in Nunavut. 

She is arguing that the regional nursing oversight body overstepped its authority when it suspended her licence in May 2014 then took additional disciplinary action in October.

In a sworn affidavit filed with the Nunavut Court of Justice, which contains allegations not proven in court, McKeown says she spoke with the baby's mother, Neevee Akesuk at 9 p.m. that night.

"I said to Neevee that she should come to the clinic if the baby didn't settle," McKeown says in the affidavit.

She alleges Makibi's father told her that at 10 p.m. the baby had been "smiling and happy" and had been put down to sleep on his belly sometime after 11 p.m.

Peterson says she would like to see McKeown called as a witness in the inquest.

"It would certainly be an opportunity for Ms. McKeownto to provide her explanation as to her actions, or inactions as the case may be at the time, and would give the public a broader view of what occurred," Peterson said. 

Why was the cause of death changed?

Peterson says other potential witnesses could include herself, Timilak's family members and the pathologists who gave differing causes of death.

Timilak's death was initially reported as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, then changed to a widespread pulmonary infection by a second pathologist, then back to SIDS.

"I think the parents need to know how it is two different opinions can occur and I think it's also important to know why successive opinions were sought by the chief coroner, what was the rationale for that, what were the motivating factors? And I think some of those questions can be answered at an inquest," Peterson said.