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Ontario Chief Coroner Dr. Dirk Huyer said that the province is not currently planning to hold any more inquests in remote communities. If the decision is made to do so, however, they can draw on what they learned during the recent inquest into the death of Romeo Wesley, which was held in Cat Lake. (CBC) Holding the recent inquest into the death of Romeo Wesley in the remote northwestern Ontario community of Cat Lake First Nation was a logistical challenge, but provided benefits to both the community and the province, Ontario’s chief coroner says.

"The process of our inquests are really to understand the circumstances of an individual’s death," said Dr. Dirk Huyer. "Who better has the perspective of that than the community, and also who better wants to learn about the individual circumstances than the actual community?"

"Fundamentally, we try in all of our situations when we hold inquests to have them in the community, or as close to the community as practical," he said. "There are many considerations."

Wesley was 34 when he died in 2010 after seeking help at the nursing station in Cat Lake, which is about 400 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. Nurses found his behaviour erratic and called police. The inquest into the death of Romeo Wesley concluded last Thursday in Cat Lake First Nation. (Cat Lake First Nation) Responding Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service officers pepper sprayed Wesley, tackled him, and beat on his arms with a baton so they could handcuff his hands behind his back.

Wesley stopped breathing while being held down. The inquest jury ruled the death was accidental, and made 53 recommendations to prevent such deaths from happening in the future.

The inquest into Wesley’s death marked the first time in decades that an inquest was held in a remote, fly-in community, Huyer said. He didn’t have an exact date, but said the last one was held prior to 1990. Logistical challenges

The inquest brought with it several logistical challenges, including securing transportation, food and accommodations, as well as a place large enough to host the proceedings. Internet access was needed as well, as the inquest was live-streamed online, Huyer said.

"We needed to wait until the school year was over so we had the school available to hold the inquest," Huyer said. "We had to think about security, and that involved working with Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service."

"Not that we anticipated anything, but because it’s a fly-in community, we had to have a plan."

There were also considerations to be made regarding the specifics of Wesley’s case.

"Where the death occurred is important," Huyer said. "In this situation, there’s a nursing station involved, there’s community people involved, there’s the police service that provides service to that community and there were specifics around the fact that it was a remote community."

"That has to be balanced against the logistics."

Huyer noted that there are logistical challenges with all inquests, even those held in larger centres like Thunder Bay, as the province arranges travel and accommodations for witnesses and jurors. Information about inquest process

For the province, the inquest was also an opportunity to gather information about what’s required to hold an inquest in a remote community.

"This was to inform our process in inquests generally, because we’re looking at our whole inquest system," Huyer said. "It really is information. It doesn’t mean that we are doing more or we’re not doing more, it really is to inform the decisions that we’ll make around this."

Huyer said he and the Cat Lake First Nation council will meet in the coming weeks to discuss the process."From our perspective at the Office of the Chief Coroner, […]

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