Jury releases 25 recommendations for RCMP, gov't after shooting death inquest

After two weeks of testimony, a coroner's jury in Igloolik into the 2012 death of Felix Taqqaugaq deliberated for nearly four hours on Thursday before releasing 25 recommendations.

Recommendations include expanding mental health services, dash and body cams, translation services

Felix Taqqaugaq, 30, was shot by police in his home in Igloolik in March 2012. On Thursday, a coroner's jury released 25 recommendations for police and the territorial government following an inquest into his death. (submitted by Mary Ijjangiaq)

After hearing two weeks of testimony, a coroner's jury looking into the death of Felix Taqqaugaq released 25 recommendations, which include expanding mental health training for police officers and improving access to certified Inuktitut translators.

Taqqaugaq, a 30-year-old Inuk man with schizophrenia, was shot by RCMP in his Igloolik home in 2012. The incident prompted a coroner's inquest, in which RCMP officers testified that the fatal shot came as Taqqaugaq charged at an officer with a knife.

Mental health

Many of the recommendations deal with mental health education and resources for RCMP officers. 

RCMP should develop training scenarios which emphasize communication and verbal de-escalation skills, the jury said. It added that police should specifically focus on adjusting communication styles when a person they're dealing with is in mental distress. 

The RCMP has already taken proactive steps with this regard. Last month it launched a national online deescalation training course with sections focused on mental distress. 

The jury also suggested police could maintain better contact with people close to individuals with mental health issues or a history of violence, and recommended increasing education for family members of people diagnosed with mental illness.

Although Taqqaugaq's sister Elisapee had signed a form under the mental health act in which she became a substitute decision-maker, RCMP said they didn't have that information.

Information sharing

Another recommendation asks the RCMP and territorial government to develop or revise their information-sharing protocols, allowing the RCMP access to mental health information in crisis situations (subject to privacy laws). And the jury suggested RCMP identify contacts in the mental health system familiar with each community officers work in. 

Taqqaugaq's family, for its part, had nothing but praise for the healthcare Taqqaugaq received. The mental health worker at the time Taqqaugaq died, testified he'd go as far as delivering a note through the health centre driver, to remind Taqqaugaq of upcoming appointments to receive medication by injection.

Finally, the jury said the territorial government should look into the feasibility of operating a mental health treatment facility in the North Baffin region, and to "make food security a priority in Nunavut, specifically ensuring households with individuals with mental health illness and households with young children have enough to eat."

In a statement before the jury was sequestered, Taqqaugaq's wife shared how one of her husband's biggest worries was providing food for his family. She said he would often stay up all night carving in an attempt to get money to buy food.

Taqqaugaq's home, in Igloolik. (Nick Murray/CBC)

Language, training

Language barriers while policing was also addressed, with the jury proposing that police employ a "local bilingual Inuktitut-speaking support staff member in all detachments within communities where Inuktitut is the primary language."

Officers testified that Taqqaugaq was yelling in both English and Inuktitut.

​It also recommended that the RCMP's major crime division (or other police services investigating in the territory) have a local, certified Inuktitut translator for testimony and statement gathering.

Taqqaugaq's wife testified that she didn't have an interpreter when she was first interviewed by police, and that she never reviewed the translated statements.

Counselling, orientation, body cameras

One recommendation dealt specifically with counselling services, saying that RCMP and the territorial government must ensure counselling and support are available to family and community members following an officer-involved shooting. 

During the inquest, a witness testified that he and his eight-year-old son are still waiting, after four years, to receive professional counselling services to help deal with what they saw.

The jury suggested that officers new to the territory take an orientation program covering culture, language and community. The RCMP does have an orientation program, but it only starts when the member arrives in the territory. One jury member pointed out that two of Nunavut's largest retailers conduct orientation before the employee moves North.

Although many of the recommendations are direct responses to testimony heard during the inquest, one came out of nowhere: that RCMP should use dash and body cameras while on duty. 

The recommendations are non-binding. However, the coroner's jury has asked the RCMP and territorial government to issue a public report within one year, outlining what they have done to implement the recommendations and give reasons for the ones they have not implemented.

with files from Nick Murray