About the Coroners Service
The BC Coroners Service is a fact-finding, not fault-finding, agency that provides an independent service to the family, community, government agencies and other organizations. The Coroners Act and Regulation governs a coroner's scope of activity. The Coroners Service is responsible for investigating all unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained or unattended deaths in British Columbia. It makes recommendations to improve public safety and prevent death in similar circumstances.
- The identity of the deceased
- When, where, and by what means the deceased came to their death
- The classification of death:
- Whether any reasonable or practical recommendations may be made to prevent future deaths in similar circumstances.
- Coroners report their findings in writing to the Chief Coroner.
The Coroners Service is also responsible for the investigation of all child deaths (a child being a person under the age of 19 years) in B.C. and reviews all child deaths to discover and monitor trends and determine whether further evaluation is necessary or desirable in the public interest. This requires appropriate liaison with agencies such as the Ministry of Children and Family Development and the Representative for Children and Youth, among others.
The Coroners Service investigates all deaths in custody and all deaths in designated institutions.
A group of deaths with similar factors may also be investigated in aggregate through a Coroners’ Death Review Panel.
Reporting a Death
Anyone can report a death to the Coroners Service which they believe meets the requirements under the Coroners Act and should be investigated by an independent body. For initial reports of new deaths call 1-855-207-0637.
The majority of cases are reported to the Coroners Service by police, BC Ambulance Service and hospitals or long-term care homes. However, family members, friends, witnesses or others who are concerned that the circumstances of a death meet the requirements of the Coroners Act as outlined below may also report a death. The case will be assigned to a Coroner who will undertake a preliminary examination of the facts to determine whether the death meets the criteria for a full investigation.
Under the Act, deaths to be reported to the Coroners Service include:
- Deaths which appear to be the result of an accident, suicide, or homicide
- Deaths in which the cause of death is not clear
- Deaths which appear to be the result of natural causes but in which the deceased person has not been previously diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness and/or has not been under the care of a physician
- All deaths which occur in provincial jails, federal penitentiaries or other facilities where a person is held against their will, such as those committed under the Mental Health Act
- All deaths of children under the age of 19 years
One of the agency’s most important responsibilities is the advancement of recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances. The agency maintains a database and conducts ongoing surveillance of common causes and circumstances of death in order to identify public health and safety risks and trends. When such issues are identified, the agency may conduct additional reviews and studies aimed at establishing effective and practical prevention measures.
In completing its responsibilities, the Coroners Service issues warrants authorizing the conduct of autopsies, toxicology testing and additional procedures where required. Coroners have legislated seizure and inspection powers when and where warranted in order to gather the facts surrounding a death. The Coroners Service is also responsible for body removal and transportation.
In the event of a mass disaster involving significant loss of life, the agency is responsible for the identification, recovery, examination and repatriation of human remains, including establishing a temporary morgue facility and connecting with families of the victims.
In British Columbia, the Chief Coroner is appointed under the Coroners Act by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council upon the recommendation of the Solicitor General. The position is judicially independent with respect to statutory functions. The chief coroner supervises and directs all regional coroners in the province. The organizational structure from top down is as follows:
Deputy Chief Coroner
Through its independent investigations, inquests and death review panels, the Coroners Service continues to support the Ministry vision for a safer British Columbia by providing the public with information about individual deaths, producing public safety bulletins about health and safety risks, and supporting evidence-based public safety initiatives.