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Nunavut's chief coroner working to recruit a coroner for every community

Charlie Tautuaqjuk has been a coroner in Baker Lake for two years. He says it's a valuable job that helps provide answers and closure to families when a loved one dies. 

But the volunteer position isn’t for everyone, Baker Lake coroner says

Bake Lake coroner Charlie Tautuaqjuk says as a former RCMP member, he knows how hard it is to work in a community where there is no coroner. (Dave Gunn/CBC)

Charlie Tautuaqjuk has been a coroner in Baker Lake for two years.

He says it's a valuable job that helps provide answers and closure to families when a loved one dies. 

But, it's a difficult job, even on the best of days, he says.  

"When dealing with deceased whether it's natural or suicide, it's not made for everyone," said Tautuaqjuk, who says his background as a member of the RCMP helps. 

"You can't just volunteer and hope that you can handle the difficult tasks that come with being a coroner."

Tautuaqjuk visited Iqaluit this week for territory-wide training of all Nunavut community coroners. The group met with the chief and deputy chief coroner, along with the RCMP major crimes unit, victims services and a pathologist who spoke about autopsies. 

He said all Nunavut communities should be able to offer coroner's services. When a community doesn't have a coroner, difficult deaths are made even harder.

"It's important to provide support to our community," said Tautuaqjuk. "It's important to provide some answers and guidance." 

Coroners needed, Copland says

Nunavut's chief coroner, Elisapi Copland, is working to recruit volunteer coroners for every community. She says families benefit from working with a coroner they know at a community level.

Right now, there are seven community coroners across the territory, in Arviat, Baker Lake, Cambridge Bay, Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit. Hamlet councils approve applications for community coroners. 

When there is a death and a community has no coroner, RCMP and health staff contact the chief coroner's office.  

Nunavut's chief coroner, Elisapi Copland, is working to recruit coroners for every community. (Dave Gunn/CBC)

Community coroners need to be comfortable writing reports and with working with nurses and RCMP, said Copland.

"In a small community you know everybody. It could be a relative. I think it would be a lot harder being a coroner being in your own home town. It's a very sensitive issue," she said. 

"It's a special gift. Families will have questions. They'll want to talk to somebody they know, or in their own language. There's big value to having a local coroner."