A Yukon man died in a Whitehorse detoxification centre Sunday after being detained by the RCMP for six hours, marking the second recent death of an intoxicated person picked up by local police.
The 34-year-old man spent about 15 hours in the hands of police, health-care workers and detox centre staff before he died.
The cause of death is as yet unknown, and an autopsy will be done within the next few days, Yukon coroner Sharon Hanley told CBC News on Monday.
The coroner's office did not release the deceased man's name on Monday, as family members are being notified. Hanley said it is believed the man lived in Whitehorse.
Since the Whitehorse RCMP had contact with the man before he died, the Medicine Hat Police Service has been asked to investigate his death.
"It will be like any other investigation of a sudden death," Yukon RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers said.
"It will be investigated to gather all the evidence of the facts to determine what happened to this gentleman, and determine if there's any criminality towards anyone."
Was combative: coroner
Hanley said the RCMP picked up the man on Saturday evening after paramedics had tried to take him to hospital.
Hanley said she was told that paramedics were called to Fourth Avenue to deal with the intoxicated man, who became combative as they were en route to Whitehorse General Hospital.
After the police were called in, officers took the man to a cell at the RCMP detachment around 8 p.m. PT. More than six hours later, the man told his guards that he was ill, Hanley said.
"He said he wasn't feeling well — he was sweaty, [had] shortness of breath — so they called EMS [Emergency Medical Services] and had him taken to the hospital," Hanley said.
Hanley said the man was at the hospital for about an hour before he was transferred at 4 a.m. Sunday to the detoxification centre on Sixth Avenue.
"He was examined by a physician and treated for alcohol withdrawal and sent to detox," she said.
The man was checked regularly at the detox centre, but he was found dead just before 11 a.m., Hanley said.
Hanley said according to the information she has, the man had earlier told police that his shoulder was sore. He also had cuts and bruises on his face, she added.
No decision on inquest
The coroner's investigation will try to determine if the man had been in a fight prior to his death. Hanley said she has not yet decided if an inquest will be held.
The treatment of intoxicated people in police custody was the focus of media attention during a coroner's inquest last month into the death of Raymond Silverfox in December 2008.
The inquest heard that Silverfox died of acute pneumonia after spending 13 hours in the Whitehorse RCMP detachment's drunk tank — largely unattended and laying in a pool of his own vomit and feces.
Silverfox had vomited 26 times during that period, but neither guards nor officers called for medical assistance or checked on his health.
As a result of Silverfox's death, the RCMP implemented a new policy in which people in custody are to be taken to hospital if they vomit more than twice.
Health minister proposes committee
The Silverfox inquest prompted Yukon Justice Minister Marian Horne to launch a government review of RCMP policing in the territory.
On Monday, Yukon Health Minister Glenn Hart proposed to create a committee to advise the government on the treatment of intoxicated people.
Speaking in the legislature, Hart said his government wants to find a better way to look after people who cannot look after themselves, like those with alcohol and drug addictions.
Hart said he would like to have people with a wide range of experience on the committee, including health and justice officials, as well as social agencies "involved with individuals with severe alcohol problems and addiction."
Hart announced his idea in the form of a motion. There is no guarantee that the motion would be called for debate or a vote, but Hart said he intends to see the committee created.