Special Investigations Unit
The BC Coroners Service Special Investigations Unit (SIU) handles a number of complex types of death investigations. The team includes a number of specialists:
- Identification Coroner – Investigates when the identity of the deceased is unknown or problematic and is responsible for all cold-cases involving unidentified human remains
- Resource Industry Coroner – Provides specialized knowledge and expertise for deaths involving workers in the forestry industry and mining operations, and also for avalanche fatalities
- Special Investigations Coroner – Provides specialized knowledge and expertise for police-involved deaths
- Intimate Partner and Family Violence Coroner - Provides specialized knowledge and expertise for deaths involving intimate partner and family violence
- Drug Death Investigation Team – A dedicated team of coroners who complete investigations into all accidental deaths resulting from illicit drug use
- GIS and Identification Analysts – Provide support using Geographical Informational Systems analysis, and assist with queries regarding unidentified human remains cases and presumed deaths in cases of missing persons
Drug Death Investigations
The BC Coroners Service established a specialized Drug-Death Investigation Team (DDIT) in 2017 which completes detailed investigations into all accidental deaths resulting from illicit drug use with to the goal of supporting evidence-based efforts to reduce the frequency of illicit drug deaths. Information gathered from the DDIT investigations allows the Coroners Service research unit to identify patterns and trends to help determine who may be most at risk and where meaningful efforts and interventions can be made to prevent future deaths. In 2017, there were over 1,400 suspected illicit drug overdose deaths, up from almost 1,000 in 2016 and nearly triple the 2015 total when there were 510 illicit drug overdose deaths.
The BC Coroners Service is a partner on the BC Drug Overdose and Alert Partnership and provides other stakeholders in the group, including public health officials, regional health authorities, the BC Centre for Disease Control and law enforcement with timely mortality data in support of evidence-based programs in an effort to reduce these deaths.
Identification of Human Remains
One of the roles of the BC Coroners Service is to determine the identity of the decedent in all sudden and unexpected deaths in the province. Normally, identification is achieved through evidence and information available at the scene of death. Most often, this is by visual confirmation by a person who knows the deceased (e.g. family, friend, neighbour). However, there can be situations where visual identification is not possible and where there is insufficient evidence for a positive identification. In these situations, the identification unit is available to assist.
The Identification Section of the SIU includes the Identification Specialist, a GIS Analyst and an Identification Analyst. British Columbia is the only jurisdiction in Canada with this special investigations team. The team employs a number of methods to support positive identified including DNA testing, dental examination, isotopic testing, confirmation of surgical implants, tattoos/scars, fingerprints, facial reconstruction, and circumstantial analysis. The team also administers the Coroners Service’s DNA database, which includes profiles from unidentified human remains cases dating back to the 1950s, and reference profiles for missing persons believed to be deceased in BC.
Unidentified Human Remains – Open Investigations
The BC Coroners Service, in conjunction with police agencies, seeks your assistance to identify found remains. Each case presented may include retouched facial photographs, photographs of tattoos and distinguishing physical features and facial reconstructions. These fabricated images may not always resemble the person as they actually appeared during life and should be considered an approximation of their appearance. With your help, we hope to bring some closure to families who are searching for a loved one.
Should you have a query regarding any unidentified human remains investigations, please contact the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) – 1 877 660-5077 or BCCS.SIU@gov.bc.ca.
The Coroners Service also works with the RCMP and its National Centre for Missing Persons and Unidentified Remains by providing information on B.C. unidentified remains for the Canada’s Missing database. Only those cases where there is enough information available to the BC Coroners Service to develop a descriptive profile are presented in the database. The database does not contain all such investigations being conducted by the Office of the Chief Coroner. The database is managed by Canada's national centre that assists law enforcement, medical examiners and coroners with missing persons and unidentified remains investigations across the country. This website features profiles of missing persons and unidentified remains that have been published at the request of the primary investigator from either a police, coroner or medical examiner agency. The lead investigator determines when and whether to publish a case.
There are approximately 200 unsolved investigations involving unidentified human remains in British Columbia, and the Coroners Service has access to over 1,300 missing persons investigation files in order to assist with identification, all within internal spatial databases with an aim to draw associations between UHRs and missing persons. Learn more about Unidentified Cases
What To Do If You Find Human Remains
Please do not touch the found remains, and definitely do not take them home with you. If you come across something resembling the remains of a human or are unsure of what the remains are, even if it’s just one bone, please contact your local police department before doing anything further and await instructions from authorities. If you are unable to call from your location, try to capture your location, take photos and then call police with that information.
Presumption of Death Form
The disappearance of a loved one is one of the most painful experiences a person can go through. Questions arise but finding answers can be difficult. Seeking Legal Declaration of Death for a Missing Person will help you understand under what limited circumstances the Coroners Service can investigate a presumed death, and gives advice on how to obtain a declaration of death though the BC Supreme Court.