Coroner's inquests mandatory again for Sask. in-custody deaths

The Saskatchewan government has once again made it mandatory for the coroner's office to hold public inquests when a person dies in custody.

Province pulls Coroner's Amendment Act after criticism

Saskatchewan's Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant says there will be no changes to coroner's inquests for the time being. (CBC News)

The Saskatchewan government has once again made it mandatory for the coroner's office to hold public inquests when a person dies in custody.

I'm willing to admit that we made a mistake.- Justice Minister Gordon  Wyant

Last month, the province introduced a bill that would leave calling coroner's inquests up to the chief coroner. While all deaths would still be investigated, only certain cases would receive an official, public inquest.

The move prompted sharp reaction from some groups, including the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan, which called for chief coroner Kent Stewart's resignation.

On Monday afternoon, the province withdrew the Coroner's Amendment Act, negating the change.

The province's justice minister said he received a number of angry comments after the bill was introduced, and that there needed to be more consultation.

"I'm willing to admit that we made a mistake," said Justice Minister Gordon Wyant. "When we make a mistake, we acknowledge it and we fix it, and that's precisely why I'm withdrawing the bill today."

Families oppose changes

Wyant said the ministry received calls from families of people who died in custody, who were against the changes.

People want answers. This will really put a huge dent into that. There's no question about it.- Kim Beaudin, president of the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan

"Although public inquests can be difficult for families and others involved, I can certainly understand they can bring a sense of closure and allow for voices to be heard," he said.

Wyant said that he has full confidence in the province's chief coroner, who agreed with the proposed changes to the inquest system.

"The consensus from his office was that there are a lot of deaths in custody that don't need an inquest where the death is obvious and there's no extenuating circumstances, which might give rise to some recommendations," he said.

Consultations to come

The ministry will now be doing consultations on changing inquest rules.

"I'm very alarmed that the minister is tabling legislation and then consulting after the fact," said Nicole Sarauer, NDP MLA for Regina Douglas Park.

"These changes that the minister was thinking of doing with respect to the coroner's act remove transparency and accountability in our justice system," Sarauer said. 

Sarauer said if the minister does do any consulting, he will find and bring up the same concerns which have been raised in the past.

Wyant said he wouldn't rule out a return to the issue in the future.

"Certainly, I'm not going to say we're never going to reintroduce the legislation," he said. "It's very likely my mind isn't going to be changed by that dialogue, in terms of withdrawing that legislation. But I'm not going to make a commitment now that the legislation won't be reintroduced in the future."

Earlier, the Coalition of Indigenous Peoples of Saskatchewan said moving away from public inquests will result in less information for families and will cause the Indigenous community to distrust the justice system even more than it does right now.

"People want answers," said president Kim Beaudin. "This will really put a huge dent into that. There's no question about it."

Beaudin said he's asking for Stewart's resignation because he didn't speak out against the government's changes.

"For sure he should have stood up," he said. "You have to fight for what you believe in."

When it originally made the change, the province said reducing the number of public inquests would improve the efficiency of the coroner's office and prevent duplicate investigations.