Methods of closure

NNSL (Nov 21/97) - In his review of the office of the chief coroner, B.C. chief coroner Larry Campbell emphasizes that the purpose of investigations, reports, inquiries and inquests is not to assign blame but "to protect the living by accurately determining the circumstances of untimely death."

Though this is the focus of coroners' investigations, the revelations, which otherwise would remain concealed, sometimes form the basis of lawsuits brought by the families of diseased.

Often the lawsuits are brought against government-funded institutions such as hospitals.

Under territorial law, coroners must investigate all deaths that occur as a result of apparent violence, suicide, accident, negligence, malpractice or any cause other than sickness or old age. Deaths that occur in police custody or jail must also be investigated.

After an investigation, coroners must make a judgment call on how to conclude the investigation. They are required to call a public inquest if they believe some public good would be served.

The coroner's report contains a list of 21 deaths investigated by the coroner's office and the proposed method of closure for each.

There are two ways of concluding investigations: through a report of the coroner or a coroner's inquest.

An inquest is the most thorough, public and expensive method.

Three inquests have been held this fiscal year. Two revealed the circumstances surrounding a double suicide in Igloolik and the third dealt with the death of a Hall Beach infant while under anesthetic in a dentist's chair.

Another inquest has been ordered into the death of a man who apparently committed suicide while in jail in Fort Smith.

All of the inquests, except for that into the death of the infant, are mandatory under the law.

Of the remaining 17 deaths on file, 16 have been or are proposed to be concluded through a report of the coroner or judgment of inquiry. Another two are still under investigation.

Eight of the 17 deaths were the result of helicopter crashes.

The seven remaining deaths scheduled to be dealt with in a coroner's report include:

  • a U.S. resident whose boat capsized after being struck by a whale

  • the death of a Kimmirut baby

  • an alcohol-related traffic fatality on Hwy. 3 near Rae

  • the death of a man in an explosion at Con Mine