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Inquest into Cynthia Blackjack's death begins in Carmacks

A coroner's inquest begins Monday into the death of Carmacks, Yukon, resident Cynthia Blackjack. She died during a medevac flight to Whitehorse in November 2013.

Blackjack, 29, died during medevac flight to Whitehorse in 2013

A coroner's inquest begins Monday into the death of Carmacks, Yukon, resident Cynthia Blackjack. She died in 2013 during a medevac flight to Whitehorse. (Facebook)

A coroner's inquest begins Monday into the 2013 death of Carmacks, Yukon, resident Cynthia Blackjack.

The first two days of the inquest are scheduled to happen in Carmacks at the local community centre. On Wednesday, it resumes at the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre in Whitehorse. If weather drops below -35 C, hearings in Carmacks may be rescheduled, according to a release.

Ten days have been scheduled for the proceedings. Yukon Territorial Court Judge Peter Chisholm has been appointed coroner for the inquest. Six jurors have been selected from two pools of candidates: three from Whitehorse and three from Dawson City.

Blackjack was 29 years old when she died during a medevac flight to Whitehorse in November 2013.

Yukon's former chief coroner refused requests from Blackjack's family and the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation for an inquest. The First Nation argued the coroner's original investigation was inadequate, and did not address "systemic racism" as a potential factor in Blackjack's death. 

The Yukon Supreme Court agreed, and ordered an inquest. The coroner appealed, but the earlier court decision was upheld.

The Yukon Court of Appeal found that in the days before she died, Blackjack had been in frequent contact with the Carmacks Health Centre complaining of abdominal pain. The day before she died, Blackjack was told by the health centre in Carmacks to go to the Whitehorse hospital — a two-hour drive away — and that she would have to find her own way there.

The inquest is scheduled to last 10 days. The first two days will be held in Blackjack's home community of Carmacks. (Alexandra Byers/CBC)

The next day, Blackjack's condition worsened, but there was a delay in getting an ambulance to bring her back to the Carmacks Health Centre and then another delay in getting her on a medevac flight to Whitehorse. 

The cause of her death was later determined to be liver failure.

The Yukon appeal court ruled that the problems with the ambulance service alone justified holding an inquest.

"This is particularly apparent given her [Blackjack's] possible vulnerability as a First Nation citizen and the nature of the care she received in the period preceding her death, regardless of whether a causal link was established between those circumstances and the medical cause of her death," the 2018 appeal court judgment says.

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