SURREY — A coroner’s inquest verdict into the 2016 death of Deanna Renee Desjarlais at Surrey’s Hawthorne Park has classified the cause of death as undetermined but possibly brought on by a drug overdose.
The jury made a raft of recommendations to the provincial government Tuesday when the inquest concluded.
The 27-year-old woman’s body was found in the park in May 2016 but the coroner determined she had died on April 20 of that year. She was not identified until September 2016. Desjarlais hadn’t been heard from since April 2016 and her family reported her missing the following month.
Deanna Renee Desjarlais, originally from Saskatoon, was a member of the Kawacatoose First Nation. She came to B.C. in late 2015.
A Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General press release noted she’d had numerous contacts with the health, justice and social services sectors in the months that followed.
The inquest was held at Burnaby Coroners Court, where Coroner Brynne Redford and a jury heard from about 30 witnesses last week and this week.
As a result, the jury made 10 recommendations. First, it recommended that the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General change the provincial policing standards for missing person investigations “to require mandatory participation in the Provincial Dental Data Bank (PDDB) for all provincial and municipal police forces, including the Vancouver Police Department, to assist with the identification of missing persons.”
To the Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, the jury recommended an end to denying income assistance benefits “based on the existence of outstanding warrants,” and called on both government ministries to “integrate access to income assistance benefits into release planning in correctional facilities for all individuals who have been sentenced or remanded into custody,” adding that “this should be available to both new and continuing income assistance recipients.”
The coroners inquest jury also recommended that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing “significantly increase the availability of easily-accessible low-barrier and publicly funded housing as a core harm reduction measure for Indigenous women, women with HIV, vulnerable women and women recently released from custody.”
It also recommended that the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General to ensure release planning including counselling services begins at the point of intake into a corrections centre “to ensure that an individual has basic identification so that access to health and social services and other key supports is not jeopardized upon release,” to make corrections staff aware of community services available to inmates on release, and to “repurpose” the Alouette Correctional Centre for Women’s currently vacant open living area, and similar facilities elsewhere, for “non-custodial transitional housing for vulnerable women released from custody.”
Moreover, the jury called on the ministries of public safety and solicitor general, social development and poverty reduction, municipal affair and housing, and health, to “engage in cooperative ministerial action, within the appropriate framework of privacy and security safeguards, to implement an effective continuum of services to foster communication and information sharing among providers of health and social supports and custodial care.”
Also among its raft of concerns, the jury recommended that these aforementioned ministries, and the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, increase “culturally appropriate” support services for Indigenous women and train community support workers and corrections staff “on available Indigenous supports within the community.”
Finally, the jury recommended that the Attorney General and the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General “reduce incarceration rates for minor and administrative offences through the expanded use of alternative sentencing approaches.”