Yukon North Of Ordinary

News archive for January 16, 2014

Be fair to bereaved families: NDP to government

The NDP is calling on the government to provide basic legal support to the families of Teresa Ann Scheunert and Mary Johnny as they prepare for the inquest investigating the deaths of their loved ones.

By Ainslie Cruickshank on January 16, 2014 at 2:58 pm


Photo by Whitehorse Star

Pictured above: Jan STICK and TERESA ANN SCHEUNERT

The NDP is calling on the government to provide basic legal support to the families of Teresa Ann Scheunert and Mary Johnny as they prepare for the inquest investigating the deaths of their loved ones.

“What we would be looking for is a minimum level of legal support for the family if nothing else to help them prepare – what to expect, how to question people, or ask for witnesses during an inquest,” Jan Stick told the Star this morning.

Stick is the Health and Social Services critic for the official Opposition.

“A coroner’s inquest ... is a complicated affair,” she said.

The families want standing at the inquest, and want to be able to question witnesses, but Stick maintains they’re being left out on their own.

“Somehow, there has to be better support for any family that is looking at an inquest into the death of a family member,” she said.

Stick’s concern is the “imbalance” that has evolved because the Yukon Hospital Corp. and the Watson Lake doctors involved have retained lawyers – lawyers who in the case of the hospital corporation are paid for by the taxpayer – when the Scheunert family has been unable to, due in large part to financial constraints.

In a release from the NDP Wednesday, Stick raised the concern that there are no lawyers representing the families or the public safety issues that were brought to light by the deaths of Scheunert and Johnny.

“How is this a balanced process?” she asked in the release.

“There are lawyers working for the hospital and the doctors, and yet no lawyers are representing the families or the public safety issues that have been brought to light through these deaths.

“This is a continuation of the system failure that these families are facing.”

Today, Stick agreed that the coroner and the coroner’s counsel also have a responsibility to represent the public interest.

“I would say that it is the coroner’s job to hear the inquest and come up with recommendations, and hopefully those would be in the public interest. So yes, it is their job to represent the public interest, but the families, and there’s two in this case, are the ones that have the biggest loss and yet have the least support,” Stick said.

“It’s about fairness ... and I know how frustrated the families are.

“They’re just faced with this insurmountable task if they want to be a part of this public inquest.”

Kirsten Macdonald, the Yukon’s chief coroner, said today she is well aware of the families’ concerns, but unfortunately, it’s not something the coroner’s office can address.

“I have explained to the family and to other families at other inquests that full participation in the inquest proceedings is not predicated on having counsel and that the proceedings really are inclusive and accessible,” she said.

“We’ve seen at other inquests families with standing not have counsel, and they participated fully.

“They asked questions of witnesses – very, very good questions of witnesses; the coroner’s counsel is there as well to enter evidence and question witnesses,” she added.

Macdonald also noted there are many pre-inquest planning meetings in which the families can participate.

Both Scheunert’s sister, Wanda Zimmerman, and Stick questioned why witnesses are provided funding for travel and accommodation to the territory for the inquest but not the families.

Macdonald explained that witnesses are subpoenaed by the coroner’s counsel and thus the coroner need to provide means for them to get into town.

“Essentially, we’re asking them to come and to provide evidence. We’ve reviewed the file, and we believe they have evidence that needs to be presented at inquest, and so essentially, they’re appearing at the inquest under a subpoena. So it is a bit different,” she said.

Macdonald reiterated that she certainly hears the concerns. She suggested it may be a question to put to the Department of Justice, more broadly.

The Star’s calls to cabinet communications personnel to speak with Justice Minister Mike Nixon about the family’s concerns were not returned.

Likewise, calls to the communications manager for the Department of Justice drew no response.

Both Johnny and Scheunert died after receiving treatment at the Watson Lake Hospital.

Johnny died of a bowel obstruction at the age of 60 in August 2012.

She had been misdiagnosed at the hospital. By the time she was transferred to Whitehorse General Hospital, she was in severe shock, and her organs were failing.

Scheunert, 47, died in June 2012.

The coroner’s report found she had succumbed to a toxic mix of medication, as indicated by the forensic pathology report.

That finding was challenged by an external patient safety review commissioned by the hospital corporation, which suggested Scheunert more likely died from obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder which causes stops and starts in breathing during sleep.

The inquest, originally scheduled for late March into early April, has been postponed, tentatively to June, to give parties more time to prepare.

By Ainslie Cruickshank
Star Reporter

CommentsAdd a comment

June Jackson

Jan 16, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Ms. Stick.. you are trying to set a dangerous precedent here.  I have any number of businesses I’d like to have a free lawyer on..If they get free lawyers, I want them too.

Really June

Jan 16, 2014 at 9:53 pm

You equate ensuring adequate support so the right questions are asked at an inquest (because of a death in a public facility) to a private sector business person (you) needing legal representation. Really? Please share with us what your many businesses are so I can avoid them.

Really June - Part 2

Jan 17, 2014 at 10:46 pm

... Dearest June ... the government and the Hospital Corporation will be represented by lawyers that you pay for ... why not a level playing field.

Groucho d'North

Jan 19, 2014 at 11:08 am

The whole affair is now pantomime. Government is just going through the motions to arrive at a decision that has already been made.
Government is stacking the deck so that the truth to be revealed is in a neat little box complete with speaking points designed to mollify any question of systematic failures in Yukon’s health system.

To my way of thinking, the ‘system’ needs a carved-in-stone examination process where there is ONE way of investigating the failures that sometimes happen. To manipulate this process by changing coroners and playing lawyer games based on how deep your pockets are demonstrates that the truth is being manipulated to a purpose.

We may never know what really happened to these two women who perished, but one thing we will know is what government is prepared to do to avoid scrutiny.


Jan 19, 2014 at 11:36 am

It really makes me sick to see Jan and the NDP use this families loss for their own political gain! Shame on you!


Jan 20, 2014 at 12:52 pm

It is obvious that the Inquest process is understood very little by the comments noted above.

In reality, the inquest is not about legal representation as is required in a trial, it is established in order to come to an understanding of the issues involved in the untimely death of individuals and then develop steps to ensure these issues are dealt with in order to avoid future deaths.

Families are encouraged to participate and ask questions so that they too can come to an understanding of the cause or their loss and to include them in suggesting solutions to amend these errors for future benefit of others.

If the NDP wants to make a suggestion involving the Inquest process, what we really need are information packages to provide to members of the community so they understand what the processes are and what is expected of them should they wish to participate.

To simplify things it would be best if no legal representation were involved in the initial Inquest. Upon completion of an Inquest, should the families wish to seek reparations for the loss of their loved ones, then a lawsuit could be initiated against the party they feel the Inquest portrayed as at greater fault.

Dearest Nile

Jan 20, 2014 at 3:16 pm

If it was not for the opposition this issue would have faded away into the night and the families would not have had at least a hope of finding out what went wrong. If anything, it is the Hospital Corporation and YG that have politicized this issue by refusing to be transparent.

john gould

Jan 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm

What has happened to seeking the truth? Is it to much to ask how and why a loved one died without political interference or is it that the head of this clinic in Watson Lake has so much political influence that we are willing to just let people die unexplained and unanswered?
When will it be time to say enough is enough? These peoples family members are dead folks not their pets or hopes and dreams but people who had heart beats and loved ones.  This is Canada and something is very wrong when a Canadian citizen has a problem finding out how another Canadian citizen died in our own country.
Who is so important that we need to protect that these good people should have to suffer and BEG for answers?

Add a comment

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your full name and email address are required before your comment will be posted.

Commenting is not available in this section entry.

Comment preview