Sask. premier announces inquest into death of Samwel Uko

Samwel Uko was found dead in Wascana Lake in May after family say he was turned away at the hospital.

Uko was found dead in Wascana Lake in May after family say he was turned away at the hospital

Samwel Uko was an athlete with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies after graduating high school in Abbotsford, B.C. (Samwel Uko/Facebook)

Premier Scott Moe says the coroner's service will conduct an inquest into the death of Samwel Uko. 

Moe made the announcement during question period at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Friday. He said the Saskatchewan Coroner's Service would make the official inquest announcement later in the day.

"The Saskatchewan Health Authority will be co-operating, obviously, fully with this inquest," Moe said in the legislature. 

"We look forward to the findings and we're very hopeful that these findings will be able to bring some peace to the family and friends of Mr. Uko," Moe said.

Uko was found dead in Wascana Lake in Regina. His uncle previously told CBC Uko visited the Regina General Hospital twice for help on the day he died.

The 20-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., was in Regina visiting an aunt when he died on May 21.

The provincial opposition previously called for an inquest into the death of Samwel Uko and mental health reform in the province. 

Justice Minister Don Morgan said he doesn't think the inquest should be political and instead thanked the NDP for calling for an inquest. 

Morgan said he contacted the Saskatchewan Coroner's Service this morning to see if there was a timeline for the coroner's investigation. He said the coroner told him they would do an investigation due to family concerns and public interest. 

"It will examine sort of the sequence of events that led up to his death and I'm hoping that a couple of things come out," Morgan said.

"I'm hoping that there's things that will give his family some comfort and some closure … and I'm hoping that there's something that will give the government the ability to improve processes and procedures," Morgan said.

A makeshift memorial was set up on a shoreline of Regina’s Wascana Lake, where witnesses say Samwel Uko entered the water the day he died. (Kirk Fraser/CBC)

Health Minister Jim Reiter said the inquest will be public. The Saskatchewan Health Authority is also conducting an investigation. 

"I've been doing this long enough to know that we need to wait for the investigation because I'm sure that there is much about this that we don't know yet," Reiter said. 

Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he hopes the internal Saskatchewan Health Authority investigation report will be made public as well. Meili said even before the inquest is done, there are steps that could be taken immediately. 

"We already know that the emergency rooms, the way we're currently operating, are not giving people the kind of help they need," Meili said. "People are too often turned away, waiting hours and hours and winding up leaving or their situation getting worse." 

NDP bill defeated in the Legislature

The NDP had also introduced a private member's bill proposing a suicide prevention strategy that included consultation with communities and families, Meili said. The bill was defeated. 

MLA Doyle Vermette was emotional when speaking after the legislative session. 

"I don't know what to say," he said. "I'm just tired; I'm drained."

Vermette said he hopes the government will be asked why they couldn't support this bill. He said other jurisdictions have supported similar bills in the past. 

"We can't lose any more young people's lives," Vermette said. 

Reiter said the province is investing more than $30 million into mental health and addictions in the 2020-2021 budget, and recently released a suicide prevention action plan. 

Reiter said the Canadian Mental Health Association endorsed the action plan. He said that plan will be their guide moving forward. 

Meili says the plan didn't have consultation with families and would not prevent suicides. Vermette said it's a start but the plan needed more teeth.