First Nations student deaths inquiry faces further delay
Joint inquest into seven deaths in Thunder Bay was supposed to start in 2011
Ontario's Chief Coroner has made an "administrative decision" to delay an inquest into the deaths of seven First Nations youth who died while attending school in Thunder Bay.
The inquest was first called in 2012. The first of the seven students died in 2000, the last in 2011.
"It is a decision I did not make lightly," said Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer. "But considering all of the factors I didn't feel I had a choice."
Huyer said there were two key reasons why he felt the inquest could not proceed this fall as expected.
First, he said problems with the representation of First Nations people on the 2014 jury roll in the Thunder Bay district continue to be a concern.
Secondly, Huyer said "the complexity of this inquest, the expense of the investigation and the volume of material" means the documentation for the inquest is "not fully prepared at this time."
"I recognize how distressing this is for families," Huyer said. "I am committed to moving forward."
"We have to ensure we are proceeding in a legally correct manner."
But Ontario's Advocate for Children and Youth said there have been too many delays in the inquest.
Irwin Elman said he wants some kind of public inquiry into the causes of the students' deaths to begin immediately.
"There must be a way to move on," he said. "If we can't have an inquest, let's have an inquiry. Let's figure out some other process in the full light of day to make sure no other child dies. We need to do that before another child dies."
"I think the delay itself speaks to some of the problems the young people are facing. How do we as a province value them?"
The lawyers representing the families of the students said they had sought a public inquiry, years ago.
"We were persuaded to abandon that avenue because an inquest, we were led to believe, would allow for the matters to be addressed more expeditiously," Jonathan Rudin and Christa Big Canoe said in a joint statement from Aboriginal Legal Services Toronto.
"As it turns out, that was completely wrong," the statement continued. "Here we are, three years later, and we have no date for when the inquest might start but we know for certain that it will not be in 2014.”
Huyer said he's "optimistic" the inquest could proceed in 2015, but that will depend on whether the problems with the jury roll are fixed.