Inquest classifies N.W.T. police shooting death undetermined

A Yellowknife Coroner's jury has ruled Karen Lander's manner of death is undetermined

Yellowknife inquest lasted 8 days

A Yellowknife Coroner's jury says Karen Lander’s cause of death is undetermined.

The inquest stems from a March 2012 standoff when three RCMP officers shot Lander four times after she came out of a Yellowknife home and pointed a rifle at police.

The jury said Lander died from gunshot wounds but the manner of her death was undetermined, as opposed to a suicide, homicide, or natural causes. The jury added that alcohol abuse, chronic depression, borderline personality disorder and suicidal ideation also contributed to her death.

The coroner’s inquest was called to classify death, and to make recommendations to prevent future similar deaths. It was not the jury’s role to lay blame in the death.

The jury also made 16 recommendations to Stanton Territorial Health Authority and physicians, the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority, the territorial government and RCMP.

The recommendations include more coordination between service providers and community organizations; ensuring family physicians receive information quickly when one of their patients has been to the emergency room threatening suicide; and having psychiatric nurses work in the emergency room with people threatening suicide.

Jury suggests more training for RCMP

The jury's verdict proposes more training for RCMP in the use of non-lethal weapons. It also recommends RCMP work with mental health professionals and family members during standoff situations.

A jury of four women and one man announced their decision at approximately 1 a.m. Thursday.

Their recommendations are not legally binding.

"The inquest as a whole has highlighted attention on the social issues that have confronted a number of northern residents," said Sheldon Toner, the coroner's counsel.

"The onus will be largely political for them to follow up on the recommendations, they will be accountable in the public eye for following through and hopefully they will do that."

Earlier in the day, Toner told the jury that classifying the manner of death could be their most difficult decision. He walked the jurors through the evidence presented during the seven days of testimony. Toner reminded the jury that several of Lander’s friends had talked about Lander being fixated on suicide. However, on the morning of the shooting, they said a key difference was that Lander was sober when she was threatening to hurt herself.

The scene on the Yellowknife street last March after the police shootout. (CBC)

Toner also pointed out that Lander told a police negotiator five times that she would leave the house with an unloaded rifle.

Jury was cautioned about making assumptions

Medical professionals who testified said they felt Lander had borderline personality disorder, and with that comes impulsiveness. Jurors had to decide if Lander walked out toward police with a gun with intent, or whether she was acting impulsively. Toner said jurors couldn’t assume that because Lander said she wanted to die, that she intended to kill herself.

Before jurors made their decision, Toner suggested 12 recommendations. Lawyers for the police, the hospital and the government also weighed in about what they felt would be realistic recommendations.