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Nunavut's chief coroner quietly leaves position, government won't say why

Nunavut's chief coroner Padma Suramala is no longer an employee with the government, CBC News has learned.

Padma Suramala had been in role since 2014 and oversaw many high-profile cases

​Nunavut's chief coroner, Padma Suramala, is no longer a government employee, according to Nunavut's Department of Justice. (CBC)

Nunavut's chief coroner, who called for an inquiry into suicide in the territory and oversaw investigations into a number of high-profile deaths, is suddenly no longer an employee with the government, CBC News has learned.

The territory's Department of Justice confirms that Padma Suramala has left the coroner's office and the position is now vacant. Her government cell phone has been disconnected.

The government won't reveal if Suramala resigned, was fired, or provide any other explanations. 

"It is the department and the government of Nunavut's policy not to comment on personnel matters," said a spokesperson in an email to CBC News. 

Suramala did not preside over the most recent coroner's inquest into a 4-month-old baby's 2015 death in Iqaluit. The inquest began earlier this month and the jury delivered its findings Friday.

Push for suicide inquest

Suramala first began working as the territory's chief coroner in March 2014. 

She became so disheartened by the number of suicides across the territory — including an 11 year-old-boy — that she pushed for an inquest. Suramala saw it as one way she could help decrease the number of deaths.

"It is very, very stressful for us to attend each and every case of suicide in Nunavut," said Suramala in an interview with CBC in 2014. "The number is increasing every year."

The number of suicides in Nunavut dropped for two years in a row in 2016. There were 25 deaths by suicide in 2017, the fewest in a decade.

She's also overseen investigations into children who have died.

In one case, Suramala ruled that the death of a four-year-old girl in Chesterfield Inlet was accidental, but recommended ways to prevent future dog mauling incidents including that sled dogs be kept outside of municipalities, penned up in fenced areas.

Suramala pushed for an inquiry into suicides in the territory, after the number of suicides in Nunavut hit a record-high in 2013. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

Under fire from father

Suramala has also come up against criticism from a father over how the investigation into the death of their infant was handled. In 2015, he pushed for the government of Nunavut to fire her. 

Luutaaq Qaumagiaq's son was three months old when he died in 2012 after his mother sought medical help at the Cape Dorset health centre. However, the nurse in charge allegedly refused to see baby Makibi Timilak, contrary to government policy.

Makibi's father, Luutaaq Qaumagiaq, holds his infant son. (Submitted by Luutaaq Qaumagiaq)

A jury in a coroner's inquest later ruled that Timilak's cause of death is undetermined.

Suramala arrived in Nunavut in 2005 from India and started working as a registered nurse with the territory's department of health. Before that she spent more than two decades serving in the Indian Army.

The government saw her medical background and experience in mass fatalities and death investigations an asset to the coroner's office. 

The Department of Justice says it's exploring options to fill the position and that it doesn't anticipate there will be any delays to the cases she was overseeing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ashley Burke

Reporter

Ashley Burke is a senior reporter with CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. Have a story idea? Email her at ashley.burke@cbc.ca

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