FSIN, family of Haven Dubois put Sask. coroner's office 'on notice'

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, along with the chief of the Pasqua First Nation and the family of Haven Dubois voiced their concerns with the chief coroner's office.

Teen's family not satisfied with unanswered questions surrounding death ruled 'accidental'

Richelle and Constance Dubois, Haven Dubois' mother and grandmother, are speaking out about their treatment by the coroner's office, and their concerns about the circumstances surrounding Haven's death in 2015. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Questions are being asked about the chief coroner's handling of a case of an Indigenous teenager found dead in a creek in Regina two years ago.

On Monday, Richelle and Constance Dubois, the mother and grandmother of Haven Dubois, spoke at a news conference with Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Vice-Chief Heather Bear and Pasqua First Nation Chief Todd Peigan in Saskatoon.

Haven Dubois was 14 when he was found dead in about a metre of water on May 20, 2015.

A coroner's report released about his death ruled Dubois accidentally drowned. That report included statements from boys he was with earlier in the day who said he suffered a bad reaction to marijuana, which the coroner concluded was a contributing factor in his death.

Police ruled out foul play.

Dubois still has questions about the investigation into her son's death. 

"We are calling for a higher degree of integrity when it comes to the coroner's reports surrounding deaths deemed accidental," said FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear

"With some of our people, these deaths may be criminal."

Dubois' case is now being reviewed by the FSIN's Special Investigative Unit.

"Let it be known that the coroner's office is on notice," said Bear.

Justice Minister Don Morgan called for the review in the wake of a lawsuit against chief forensic pathologist Dr. Shaun Ladham, which uncovered allegations he made racist comments about the bodies of Indigenous people in the morgue.

The province's lawyers dispute that allegation and the government intends to appeal the jury's verdict in the civil case. 

Bear, the Dubois family, and Chief Peigan of Pasqua First Nation all spoke about systemic racism within the justice system, and how they believe it could have affected the Dubois investigation.

"I can't even tell you how frustrating it is," said Constance Dubois, Haven's grandmother.

"Sleepless nights, nightmares, mileage. And to be told no, with a smile on their face, as they're saying no from the coroner's office."

The family had asked for a copy of Haven Dubois' autopsy report, and only received it several months after their request.

'Questioning racism, questioning professionalism'

Delores Stevenson says seeing news of the lawsuit against the coroner's office and allegations of racism inspired her to testify at the MMIWG inquiry about her niece Nadine Machiskinic, found dead at the Regina Delta Hotel in 2010. (CBC News)

The aunt of Nadine Machiskinic, a woman discovered dead in 2015 after a 10-storey fall down a hotel laundry chute, said she welcomes the external review. 

Delores Stevenson said she wasn't planning on testifying at the upcoming community hearings for a national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, which stops in Saskatoon this week. 

However, hearing about the recent court case involving the coroner's office and chief forensic pathologist reignited something inside her, she said. 

"There's a lot of stuff that's going on at the coroner's office right now and questioning the integrity, questioning racism, questioning professionalism, and it just raises more concerns," Stevenson said.

"As this inquiry is going on, I think it's a good time to acknowledge what's going on in the coroner's office."

Richelle Dubois, Constance Dubois, FSIN Vice-Chief Heather Bear, and Pasqua First Nation Chief Todd Peigan addressed reporters in Saskatoon Monday afternoon. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Peigan, who is supporting the Dubois family in their quest for more thorough answers, said he believes "another set of eyes" reviewing investigative procedures may lead to change in the department.

Providing answers

"Perhaps they can provide some of the answers to the family that they're seeking or they can identify certain investigative practices that were not adhered to," he said.

"Many-a-time, we have senior justice people from city police or the politicians identifying that there is no racism within the justice system, and how are we ensured that directive from those senior people flow to those people performing these tasks?"

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, Drew Wilby, told CBC News the department's "sympathies go out to the Dubois family for their loss."

Wilby and former justice minister Gord Wyant met with Richelle Dubois to discuss her son's death and talk about the coroner and police investigations.

"It was a very productive conversation, we felt, and we were able to hopefully provide some answers," said Wilby.

"It's the role of the ministry of justice, whether that be police or coroner's office, to offer a sympathetic shoulder and sympathetic awareness."

In response to allegations of systemic racism, Wilby said the review into the coroner's office is almost underway, and that it should address some of those concerns.

with files from Bridget Yard