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Quebec coroner rules five indigenous suicides were avoidable

Coroner adds that most of the victims had not wanted to die, but rather to put an end to their suffering


 

Five suicides that occurred in two indigenous communities in 2015 were avoidable, a Quebec coroner said in a report released Saturday.

Bernard Lefrancois suggested many of the communities’ wider struggles are rooted in the reserve system, which he described in the report as an “apartheid” system.

Lefrancois’ wrote the four women and one man all had unique stories and circumstances, but had their aboriginal heritage in common.

“That fact raises the issue of living conditions in these communities even though, when each death is considered individually, each person may have had a different reason for ending his or her life,” the report said.

The victims ranged in age from 18 to 46 and all took their lives between February and October of 2015 in the communities of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam and Kawawachikamach, on Quebec’s North Shore.

A public inquiry was ordered into the deaths in January 2016.

Lefrancois’ report concludes the five victims — four Innu and one Naskapi — all exhibited at least one of the factors associated with suicide, which can include alcohol and drug consumption, family difficulties, sexual abuse, mental illness and exposure to the suicide of a loved one.

The coroner added that most of the victims had not wanted to die, but rather to put an end to their suffering.

In his recommendations, he called for improving the living conditions in aboriginal communities, which have a suicide rate that is double that of the general population.

He noted the Innu community of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam suffers from social problems that include high rates of unemployment, substance abuse and suicide, despite numerous resources including its own police force, social services, three Innu schools, and health service points.

He places the blame for this “profound collective discontent” squarely on the reserve system, and describes the Indian Act as “an ancient and outdated law” that treats aboriginal people as wards of the state who are “considered incapable and unfit.”

“It is time to put an end to this apartheid system, and for all the authorities concerned to confront that challenge,” he wrote.

His report contains a number of recommendations, including a specialized “specialized resource” to take charge of persons who are at risk of suicide that would include caseworkers, a psychologist, and lodging if needed.

He also recommended that existing services focus on suicide prevention in youth, with special attention given to the Internet and social networks, as well as more programs that help young aboriginals preserve their culture, identity, and health.


 
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