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Sanirajak inquest hears that housing is a factor in suicide

Day three of the inquest into the police shooting of Jeremy Nuvviaq ended with a plea for a solution to Nunavut's housing crisis. "Housing… is definitely one of the underlying causes of people who attempt to take their life," said one witness. 

'Housing… is definitely one of the underlying causes of people who attempt to take their life'

Jeremy Nuvviaq, 39, was killed by RCMP in Sanirajak, Nunavut, in 2017. A coroner's inquest into his death began Feb. 28. (Submitted by Vitaline Morgan)

A detective with the Ottawa police says there was no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting of Jeremy Nuvviaq. 

Nuvviaq died at age 39 in May of 2017. The inquest into his death began Monday.

RCMP Const. Stephen Currie shot Nuvviaq after Nuvviaq held a black rifle-like pellet gun at the officer. 

Currie told the inquest he "feared for [his] life," not knowing the weapon Nuvviaq was holding was a pellet gun. 

Det. Glen Barry was part of the Ottawa investigation team that concluded there was no criminal wrongdoing in the shooting. 

Barry told the inquest Wednesday that at the time of the shooting, he believes Currie did fear for his life and under the Criminal Code, was justified in defending himself. 

Barry said RCMP officers Currie and Const. Reg Cambell tried to defuse the situation by yelling at Nuvviaq to drop the weapon and that they were there to help him. 

Real looking gun justified force

One of the interviews the Ottawa police conducted into the investigation was played at the inquest. In it Reco Tungilik, who is now deceased, spoke to police about watching Nuvviaq get shot from his home. 

Tungilik said at first he thought the gun Nuvviaq was holding was real. He realized it wasn't when he saw Nuvviaq waving it around. 

Ottawa police say the fact that the gun looked real justified the use of force. 

A forensic pathologist, Christopher Milroy, told the inquest that the shot Nuvviaq suffered was "unsurvivable." 

He determined it to be the cause of death. Milroy also said that Nuvviaq's toxicology report showed he was twice the legal limit for alcohol and also showed signs of cannabis in his system. 

Milroy said he suspected Nuvviaq would show signs of intoxication and would have impared judgement at these levels. 

A harrowing video

The jury watched the 22-minute Facebook live video Nuvviaq shared shortly before he was shot.

In it Nuvviaq appears intoxicated and yells about suicide and wanting to die by police. 

He holds what turns out to be a yellow toy gun under a towel pointing it at the door in the video. The toy gun was later found in the house.

A street in Sanirajak, Nunavut. “Housing… is definitely one of the underlying causes of people who attempt to take their life,” said Victoria Madsen, assistant deputy minister of mental health and addictions for the Government of Nunavut. (Jackie McKay/CBC)

The jury also listened to the dispatch calls from Jason Dawson, a former co-worker of Nuvviaq's who saw the video live on Facebook, as well as a call made by Nuvviaq himself. 

The Ottawa investigation determined that an intoxicated-sounding man who called police dispatch saying "Jeremy has a gun and doesn't care" was made by Nuvviaq from a neighbour's house. 

Housing at the root

Victoria Madsen, assistant deputy minister of mental health and addictions for the Government of Nunavut, spoke to the inquest about services in the territory. 

"Housing… is definitely one of the underlying causes of people who attempt to take their life," said Madsen. 

"In our mental health and addiction program we have noticed year after year if our clients had adequate and safe housing, they would not have as many mental health and addiction issues as they do," she said. 

Sanirajak mental health worker, Christie Williams, testified Tuesday that Nuvviaq and his partner had come to see her about their housing. 

She told the inquest that they wanted her to write a letter to the Nunavut housing office on their behalf because they had nine people living in a two-bedroom house. 

Madsen says the government needs to have a clear plan about dealing with the territory's housing needs. 

"I look forward to seeing a difference because I have not seen it yet," said Madsen. 

Madsen says her office is trying to recreate a program that has dedicated mental health staff work with RCMP. 

She said staff have done ride-alongs with police and looked at their typical mental health calls to see how they can be supported. 

The ultimate goal is to have assigned mental health staff that work only with RCMP. 

"Realistically, we are a few years away from that goal," said Madsen. 

The jury will deliberate Thursday. They will need to come up with recommendations to prevent similar kinds of deaths. 

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