The jury at the inquest into the death of a Neskantaga First Nation man in Thunder Bay has made 23 recommendations to help prevent similar tragedies in the future.
Bruce Moonias died in the early morning hours of December 11, 2006 at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre. The official cause of death was sepsis—a complication from an infection—due to a gunshot injury in his abdomen.
On the evening of December 9, 2006, Moonias, 27, fired multiple gunshots inside the Neskantaga home he shared with his father, Stanley Moonias. At the time, there was only one Nishnawbe Aski Police Service [NAPS] constable in the community. More NAPS officers flew in to help with the crisis,followed by two Ontario Provincial Police teams.
During the inquest, the jury heard testimony that police didn't make direct contact with Moonias, or enter the home, until at least 15 hours after the last gunshots were heard. Officers found Moonias alive and communicative in a blood-soaked bed and carried him out of the house on a stretcher. He was airlifted to Thunder Bay for surgery, where he died the next day.
On Wednesday afternoon, the five-member jury ruled that the means of death was suicide. Of the 23 recommendations it delivered, 11 were related to mental health services and another 11 were related to police services in remote northern Ontario communities.
The final recommendation called on Nishnawbe Aski Nation to "explore avenues of affordable safe storage of firearms" in northern communities.
Recommended actions on mental health include:
- Ensuring follow up when patients miss appointments with psychiatrists and psychologists and addressing barriers to attendance for patients from remote First Nations
- Promoting the use of tele-psychiatry in remote First Nations and ensuring that translation or language assistance is available
- Incorporating cultural practices into mental health and addictions programming
- Consulting First Nations community members on culturally-appropriate treatment options
- Promoting crisis intervention hotlines
Recommended actions for police services include:
- Joint training exercises between Nishnawbe Aski Police Service and Ontario Provincial Police Emergency Response and Tactics and Rescue units, as well as the Thunder Bay Police Service if appropriate
- Police contact with First Nations leaders, including the chief, council and elders about the personal circumstances of a person involved in a crisis
- Investigate ways to improve OPP Tactics and Rescue Unit response times in northern Ontario, including faster availability of aircraft and crews, as well as locating strategic equipment in the region
- Equip the NAPS Emergency Response Team with equipment such as loud-hailers to use in hostage/barricaded persons incidents
- Paramedic skills training for the NAPS Emergency Response Team
After the inquest concluded, Stanley Moonias said even though he welcomed the recommendations, it would still take a long time for him to find closure after the death of his son.
Moonias—who has received counselling himself in the past—said he was particularly pleased with the mental health recommendations, although he was unsure if tele-psychiatry was the solution.
"For me [it was] effective [for]... a person to be there to talk to," he said. "Just talking to a TV or screen wouldn't help me."
Moonias said the recommendations present an opportunity to speak out about mental illness and reduce the stigma in First Nations.
For Bruce Moonias' mother, Clara Quisess, a recommendation for the Nishnawbe Aski Police Service to improve its procedure for notifying parents about a death was particularly important.
Quisess was living in Thunder Bay, and heard the news her son had died from a community member at Neskantaga First Nation.
"I assume that I was the last one to know," she said.