North

Yukon inquest jury concludes Cynthia Blackjack's death was accidental

The jury in a coroner's inquest in Yukon says Cynthia Blackjack's death in 2013 was accidental. The 6-person jury delivered its unanimous decision, with 8 recommendations, late Friday afternoon.

6-person jury delivered decision with 8 recommendations late Friday afternoon

Cynthia Blackjack died while being medevaced to Whitehorse from Carmacks on Nov 7, 2013. Yukon's director of community nursing defended the way workers at the Carmacks health centre handled Cynthia Blackjack's case, on the last day of inquest testimony. (Facebook)

The jury in a coroner's inquest in Yukon has concluded Cynthia Blackjack's death in 2013 was accidental.

The six-person jury delivered its unanimous decision, along with eight recommendations, late Friday afternoon after being sequestered for several hours.

It follows nearly two weeks of inquest testimony, from Blackjack's friends and family, as well as health officials who treated Blackjack in the days and hours before her death on a medevac flight to Whitehorse. 

Her case raised questions about the treatment of First Nations patients by the health care system.

Among the jury's recommendations:

  • The Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation and the Yukon government to should hire a nurse practitioner.
  • A review if terminology used in medical charts to reduce stigmatizing language.
  • Create a "wellness hub" in Carmacks that focuses on alcohol treatment, social issues and mental health.
  • Yukon government should establish dedicated medical transport for non-emergency patients from Carmacks.
  • Consider installing lighting at community landing strips, which would extend flight hours for medevacs.

Earlier today, the jury asked whether a finding of negligence was allowed as a verdict. Coroner Peter Chisholm said inquest juries may not find legal or criminal responsibility.

Reported earlier:

Yukon's director of community nursing defended the way workers at the Carmacks health centre handled Cynthia Blackjack's case, on the last day of inquest testimony.

Six jurors received their final instructions Friday morning, before being sequestered to review evidence heard over the last two weeks. The coroner's inquest is looking into circumstances around Blackjack's death in November 2013, while on a medevac flight to Whitehorse.

Sheila Thompson, the director of community nursing, told the inquest jury on Thursday that the territory's health department is trying to build trust with First Nation communities. She said Blackjack's death was hard on everyone involved.

"It was a very sad loss," she said.

Thompson said the health department provides more cultural training on First Nations' issues to nurses since Blackjack's death and that health centre equipment has been standardized since 2013.

Thompson also said the department is trying to recruit more Indigenous health-care workers.

The Carmacks health centre. A coroner's inquest is looking into circumstances around Cynthia Blackjack's death in November 2013, while on a medevac flight from Carmacks to Whitehorse. (Chris Windeyer/CBC)

Susan Roothman, the lawyer for the Little Salmon Carmacks First Nation, pressed Thompson on gaps in Blackjack's medical records.

Thompson said the department is bringing in an electronic health records system that will help ensure more up-to-date patient information.

"It will reduce gaps in service as well as duplication of service," she said.

Jurors at the inquest heard from more than 20 witnesses over the last couple of weeks, and received hundreds of pages of written evidence. On Friday morning, they'll receive instructions from coroner Peter Chisholm before being sequestered to compile their findings and draft recommendations.

It's not known how long that will take.

With files from Chris Windeyer

now