Dozens of recommendations are being made to improve Saskatchewan’s coroner’s system with everything from new positions and new committees to speeding up toxicology results and having a plan around mass casualties.
The external review was called in November by the government in order to restore public confidence in the coroner’s office after a legal matter involving Saskatchewan’s chief forensic pathologist.
In all, 44 recommendations are being made by former Saskatoon Police Chief Clive Weighill, who compiled the report looking into the Office of the Chief Coroner.
He’s recommending six new positions, including adding another forensic pathologist.
Weighill also would like to see the creation of two new committees. An Inquest Review Committee would decide when an inquest would be held while a Child Death Review Committee would bring together those from police, government and healthcare fields.
The former chief was honest in his assessment of the current coroner’s system.
“I would say it is operating inadequate right now and that’s why I’m recommending these extra positions,” he said.
One of the recommendations has to do with developing a plan around mass casualties, like April’s deadly Humboldt Broncos bus crash. Weighill believes a clear plan is needed on the roles and responsibilities of first responders and others involved, while also addressing the transfer of bodies and morgue capacity.
The most common complaint he said he received was that toxicology tests were taking too long. Weighill said the process could last up to 14 months and some who wanted an inquest into the death of a loved one didn’t receive it. The delay impacts police, victim’s families and pathologists.
“It just starts a whole chain reaction down the line when we don’t have sufficient, quick enough toxicology,” said Weighill.
It’s just one area he said the province is lagging behind in that more funding and capacity could help aid.
“I don’t think Saskatchewan should be lagging behind anybody. If somebody dies in the province of Saskatchewan and there has to be an investigation into that death, it should be done in a very professional and very quick manner, and I don’t think Saskatchewan should take a backseat to anybody on that.”
The provincial government accepts the recommendations. Attorney General and Justice Minister Don Morgan said he hopes they will begin moving on them within a few months. However, he wasn’t able to provide any kind of potential cost breakdown.
Morgan believes it is going to take more than just a finished report to get the public’s confidence back.
“I’m assuming that there will have to be some hires made and some of the positions filled before people are going to say that they’ve got some restored confidence,” said the minister.
Nicole Sarauer from the opposition NDP believes these recommendations need to be implemented immediately, adding the report shouldn’t come as a surprise to the province.
“This is a result of this government starving this office for several years of its funding, not properly supporting it, not providing it the resources that it needs,” she explained.
Sarauer said it’s important for families to have answers and closure, while it’s also important for society as a whole to know what’s happened in these deaths so recommendations can come out to discourage them from happening again.