Inquest jury recommends better policies, training at Whitehorse emergency shelter

The Whitehorse emergency shelter on Alexander Street. The jury at a coroner’s inquest in Whitehorse has issued a list of recommendations aimed at developing better policies and training for staff at the shelter. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Jury issues 8 recommendations at end of coroner’s inquest into deaths of 4 women at shelter in 2022 and 2023

The jury at a coroner’s inquest in Whitehorse has issued a list of recommendations aimed at developing better policies and training for staff at the Whitehorse emergency shelter.

The inquest, which began earlier this month, was focused on the deaths of four Indigenous women at the shelter in 2022 and 2023: Myranda Tizya-Charlie, Cassandra Warville, Josephine Elizabeth Hager and Darla Skookum.

Over more than two weeks of testimony from shelter staff, administrators, government officials, RCMP officers and others, including friends and family of the deceased women, the six-person jury heard details about the circumstances around each woman’s death at the shelter.

A common theme throughout the inquest was an apparent lack of clear policy or adequate staff training to ensure the safety of guests who may be intoxicated or using substances.

The jury’s eight recommendations, issued late Thursday afternoon after about seven hours of deliberating, also focus heavily on policy and training.

The most detailed recommendation is for Connective Support Society, the non-profit that has been responsible for operating the facility since October 2022, to undertake a comprehensive policy review within the next six months.

Policies, procedures and guideline should be reviewed: recommendation 

It says that review should give priority to looking at the shelter’s policies, procedures and guidelines related to, among other things, safety planning for shelter guests, overdose events and medical emergencies, dealing with intoxicated guests, monitoring vulnerable guests, and monitoring “high-risk spaces” such as washrooms and shower rooms.

Another recommendation is for Connective to work with First Nations, shelter guests, staff and others to adopt a training plan for staff members. It says that training should give “initial priority” to things such as overdose response training, managing safety risks associated with alcohol intoxication, regular drills for emergency response procedures, harm reduction, naloxone and First Aid training, and trauma-informed practice.

The other recommendations are:

  • Connective should give priority to recruiting, hiring and retaining Indigenous employees.
  • The Yukon government should evaluate Connective’s progress on the the above recommendations after six months.
  • Any future deaths at the shelter should be subject to an independent review.
  • The Yukon government and Connective should, within two months, meet with “the community affected” by the four women’s deaths to hear any concerns arising from the inquest. Connective should also provide access to in-person counselling for staff as needed, in the next six months.
  • Connective should consult with interested First Nations about beginning a monthly talking circle and also to create a complaint process “to nurture trusting relationships and contribute to a welcoming environment.”
  • Connective should create a safe space at the shelter for LGBTQ2S+ and female-identifying guests.

On Friday, the Yukon Aboriginal Women’s Council plans to hold a “unity in the community” walk and sacred fire ceremony at noon. The event is “to hold space for healing together as a community, and to celebrate Indigenous women and culture,” according to an online post.

It’s expected to feature speakers, prayers, singing and dancing.

-With files from Virginie Ann

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Nunavik, Nunavut and Ottawa to get shelters for Inuit women, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Craft space aims to teach Alaska Indigenous women skills — and help beat addiction, Alaska Public Media

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