GJOA HAVEN, Nunavut — Some jurors in a coroner’s inquest examining a fatal police shooting in Nunavut wiped away tears as they listened to closing arguments from lawyers.
The jury is now deliberating in the case of 21-year-old Charles Qirngnirq, who was carrying a rifle when he was shot by an RCMP officer near the Gjoa Haven airport in December 2016.
Lawyers for the Nunavut coroner’s office and Qirngnirq’s family have argued his death was a homicide, while the RCMP’s lawyer says it was a suicide.
The jury is to determine the cause and circumstances of Qirngnirq’s death and make recommendations to prevent similar deaths in the future.
Cpl. Ian Crowe testified that Qirngnirq yelled out to himself that he wanted to die before he appeared to lift his rifle at Crowe and another Mountie.
Ottawa police investigated the shooting and earlier cleared Crowe, saying the officer’s use of force was reasonable.
Sheldon Toner, the coroner’s lawyer, cautioned the jury that coroner’s inquests must have a presumption against suicide.
The inquest heard that Qirngnirq went to the airport that morning because he was upset his girlfriend and young son were trying to fly out of the community.
The jury was also told that Qirngnirq was at a higher risk for suicide because of his age and background. But Toner said there’s no indication he wanted to take his own life.
“He’s not a walking stereotype. He’s a person,” Toner said in closing arguments Friday.
He also said Crowe testified that he heard Qirngnirq make suicidal comments while walking with the rifle outside the airport that day, but Qirngnirq didn’t direct the comments at the two officers.
Qirngnirq’s rifle was later found to be unloaded. He was carrying two bullets, but the inquest heard they would not have worked in the rifle.
“A reasonable inference could be that he was just raging at the world. He was upset, but that does not mean he was suicidal,” Toner said.
“He wanted to live.”
RCMP lawyer Magnolia Unka-Wool argued that Qirngnirq intentionally disobeyed the officers, pointed his rifle at them and used them to end his life.
“Charles, without a doubt, could see the police vehicle in the flat snowy tundra,” Unka-Wool said.
She said his family had made previous calls to the RCMP saying he had suicidal thoughts. She told the jury that he took his rifle to the airport that day with the intention of dying.
“He was leaving the officers with no choice but to shoot him,” she said.
Nikolai Sittmann, the Qirngnirq family’s lawyer, said the inquest didn’t hear any evidence that Qirngnirq knew the officers were actually there.
“This is about two police officers that saw an upset young man walking with a rifle and felt so threatened that they shot him,” Sittmann said.
The inquest heard that after the shooting, when the officers reached Qirngnirq, he asked, “Why you shoot?”
“That’s the reaction of someone who did not want to be shot,” Sittmann said.
Lawyers proposed several recommendations for the jury: equipping Nunavut RCMP with first aid kits to respond to life-threatening wounds and requiring all Nunavut officers to receive mental-health training.
Toner and Sittmann also said Nunavut RCMP and the territorial government should agree to track the number, type and seriousness of use-of-force incidents.
The RCMP said Crowe is currently on administrative duty. He was charged with assault earlier this year after he responded to a call for service in Sanirajak, Nunavut, in August of 2020.
Crowe told The Canadian Press he has no comment on the assault allegation.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 8, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emma Tranter, The Canadian Press