Swimming lessons for inmates
Inquest recommends water training following drowning

Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 02/98) - The coroner's office wrapped up its inquest last week into the death of a Cape Dorset man who drowned while serving time at the Yellowknife Correctional Centre this past June.

Etuk Joanisie Qavavau, along with 10 other inmates and one maintenance officer, received permission to go on a picnic to the city's Long Lake as a reward for community service.

Three inmates, including Qavavau, went swimming out of view of the officer, but Qavavau got into trouble. Attempts by inmates to retrieve him were unsuccessful. Attempts by the Yellowknife fire department to find Qavavau were also futile.

"It was quite emotional (testimony). We had to excuse a couple of the witness," said Garth Eggenberger, the NWT coroner who was on call at the time of the death.

Following one day of testimony, the jury made its submissions and recommendations.

Jurors said an aquatic training program should be put on by the Yellowknife Correctional Institute for inmates, to teach them basic water skills and drown-proofing techniques. The focus would be on developing qualified instructors within the inmate population.

The jury was told swimming lessons would be of value to inmates when they re-enter the community where water activities are common.

Other recommendations include:

  • YCC continue to provide counselling to any and all personnel, inmates or others affected by the death.

  • The Department of Health and Social Services provide counselling to community and family members of the deceased as requested or deemed necessary.

  • The City of Yellowknife provide the necessary resources to allow the Yk fire department to develop underwater rescue capability immediately.

  • The Department of Transportation, through the NWT Small Boat Safety Program, consider funding the costs associated with acquiring the necessary equipment for the Yk fire department to begin providing underwater rescue operations.

  • The department of Municipal and Community Affairs, through the appropriate division, provide the financial resources for training of Yk firefighters in underwater rescue operations.

  • The departments of Transportation and Municipal and Community Affairs mount a public awareness campaign promoting personal water safety.

  • The City of Yellowknife post signs at Lookout Point, where the incident occurred, advising it is a dangerous swimming area.

The jury was told there were large rocks and a sudden, underwater drop-off near the point. It is also an area not under supervision by a lifeguard.

Eggenberger said recommendations are usually followed by involved agencies but, in six months, they will follow up to their directives with a letter to each department to see how they are progressing.