Q&A: Chief coroner Dirk Huyer on the upcoming inquest
Dr. Dirk Huyer took over as chief coroner for Ontario in March 2014, two years after his predecessor called for a combined inquest into deaths of seven aboriginal youths in Thunder Bay.
Why has it taken so long to launch this inquest?
The process has been long for a number of reasons. One significant reason is that seven youths have unfortunately died and that requires significant resources to try and understand the circumstances and prepare the evidence that needs to be brought forward for the inquest.
There were also issues with the First Nations representativeness on inquest juries that contributed as well, to some extent. But that was one factor among many.
There have been great efforts to bring aboriginal people onto juries over the past few years — a special government regulation, a team travelling to reserves to sign up new jurors. Have they worked?
The concern was that juries where First Nations issues were being explored were not representative of the community. First Nations people on reserves were not included in the jury selection process at all. Now we’ve moved to draw from a list of volunteers to expand the list of potential jurors that are made available to us. So it’s not the jury itself that might have representatives, it’s that the list that the jury is drawn from is representative of the community.
Has the jury been chosen yet? Are there many aboriginal people included?
We can’t proceed until we have a jury. That selection process is in motion, and there will be a jury available for Oct. 5. But I can’t tell you right now the exact make-up of the inquest jury.
What questions does the inquest seek to answer?
The idea is to have a collaborative, co-operative fact-finding process that answers questions about the circumstances of each of the seven deaths, but also provides the jury the opportunity to make recommendations to try and reduce the chance of similar deaths in the future. So there are two aspects: the questions and the recommendations.
The questions attempt to answer who died, where they died, when they died, the medical cause of death and the way the death occurred (accident, natural, suicide, homicide). Most of the time that’s more straightforward, and the recommendations are the more challenging aspect that arises out of the evidence presented at the inquest.
What happens to the recommendations once they’re produced?
They’re recommendations to inform and suggest change. And the organizations and governmental branches that those are directed to are asked to provide a response — but they aren’t binding. Those responses that we ask for are made available to the public.
Ontario chief coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer took on his post in March of 2014.