No inquest into the drowning of two youths
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The boys' deaths were declared accidental by deputy chief coroner Cathy Menard in a report released on Aug. 15.
Michael Luzny-Ouellette, 18, and Randy Leisk Jr., 15, drowned on Great Slave Lake July 5, 2007.
They were at Sacred Fire Healing Camp — a place for troubled youth run by Bertha Blondin and her son Grant — when they died.
In the report, Menard addressed the concerns that Randy Leisk Jr.'s parents have been voicing since the death of their son.
Darlene and Randy Leisk Sr. have continually said their son should not have been left without adult supervision at the camp. They said Leisk Jr. had been given the option of going to Sacred Fire by Judge Brian Bruser in order to finish his community service hours.
"I felt that the coroner's service tried to answer those (claims)," said Menard. "I felt that we had to investigate that."
Some of what Menard examined included the RCMP report on the incident, the autopsy reports and court transcripts. It was Randy Leisk Sr. that suggested his son attend the camp and the entire Leisk family was invited and planned to attend, Menard stated in her report.
"The judge repeatedly and clearly stated in the transcript that he is not ordering Randy Leisk Jr. to go there," Menard wrote.
She also found that the judge stated Leisk Jr. could only go if he had permission of a youth worker, which was never granted.
The healing camp was only in development, not yet in operation, according to Menard's report.
The youths in attendance were not taking part in any programs, but were assisting with the building and set up of the camp, she determined.
"No family consent forms were signed in any capacity. Randy Leisk Jr. was brought along to the camp as a friend of the deceased (Luzny-Ouellette)," she wrote.
"I hope the report answers questions and provides some closure for the families," she said.
Now living in Montreal, Darlene Leisk said she had not been informed about the coroner's decision not to hold an inquest.
"They should have informed me," she said. "I should have been told before the newspaper."
Menard said there were numerous attempts by the coroner's office to contact the Leisk family and their lawyers to notify them the report was ready, but calls were not returned.
Leisk said she does not feel like she has closure. Yet she would not comment as to whether or not she would challenge the findings of the report.
She said her family never planned to go to the camp with Leisk Jr.
Menard did make a recommendation in her report to the GNWT to develop comprehensive safety standards for all wilderness camps in the NWT. The suggestion has resulted in various government departments, headed by the Department of Justice and including the Department of Health, Municipal and Community Affairs, Education Culture and Employment and Finance to improve safety at wilderness camps.
Deputy minister of Justice, Bronwyn Watters, said the GNWT is working to implement "consistent standards across the board."
Watters said the drownings of the two youths "raised the priority."
"This was something that was going to be done at some stage, but that really made it a high priority," she said.
The government is hoping to have new safety standards in place by next year, but is currently still assessing how new regulations or standards will be put into effect, Watters said.
"What constitutes a wilderness camp? What can you regulate and what is really up to the private individual? We have to work through those things," she said. "But the first step would be to have these standards in place for anything the government was involved in any way."
That comes as little comfort to the family of Leisk Jr., as his mother questions, "Does it have to be something so extreme that someone has to die before things change?"