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Saturday, February 13, 2016
Saskatchewan Justice

The Coroners Act, 1999 provides for the appointment of a chief coroner who is responsible for supervising the other coroners appointed under the Act. Coroners investigate and report on the circumstances surrounding unexpected, unnatural or unexplained deaths.

What kind of deaths must be reported to a coroner?

Every person must repfort a sudden, unexplained or violent death to a coroner. In addition, all deaths must be reported by those responsible for the care or custody of people in custody facilities, such as:

  • inmates in correctional facilities;
  • minors who are residents of a foster home, group home or place of safety within the meaning of The Child and Family Services Act; and
  • involuntary patients in a mental health facility.

If a person dies as a result of an act or omission of a peace officer, the peace officer must notify a coroner.

If a minor dies while in the care, custody or supervision of the Ministry of Social Services, an employee of that Ministry must notify a coroner.

What does the coroner do?

For the purposes of an investigation, a coroner may:

  • cordon off the area where the deceased person suffered the injuries or where the body was found;
  • prohibit the removal of any object within the cordoned area;
  • enter any place where a dead body is or from which the body was removed;
  • examine any records relating to the deceased;
  • take charge of items of personal property of the deceased found on or near the body that may assist in establishing identification and cause and manner of death and, subject to approval of the chief coroner, remove those items;
  • seize bodily fluids obtained from the deceased before death; and
  • order a post-mortem examination to be performed by a pathologist.

If, after an investigation, the coroner believes an inquest is not necessary, the coroner must release the body for burial, report to the chief coroner, and file any information that may be required under The Vital Statistics Act, 2009.

A family member of a deceased person, or other interested parties, may request copies of a coroner's investigational report or the autopsy report by writing directly to the chief coroner.

Why are inquests held?

Following an investigation, a coroner, with the approval of the chief coroner, shall hold an inquest where it is necessary to:

  • determine the identity of the deceased and how, when, where and by what means he or she died;
  • inform the public of the circumstances surrounding a death;
  • make dangerous practices or conditions known and make recommendations to avoid preventable deaths; or
  • educate the public about dangerous practices or conditions to avoid preventable deaths.

Coroner's inquests are public, unless the coroner determines there are reasonable grounds to exclude the public.

How are inquest juries selected?

Every inquest is to be held with a jury. Jurors are randomly selected from the geographical area where the death occurred. The coroner may question potential jurors to determine their eligibility and suitability before selecting six people.

If an inquest concerns the death of an employee arising out of his or her work, the coroner will try to ensure that the jury includes people familiar with that type of work.

If, in the chief coroner's opinion, the circumstances surrounding the death require the jury to include people from a specific racial or cultural group, the coroner shall summon people for the jury from those groups.

What happens at an inquest?

A coroner may issue a summons to any person to give evidence at the inquest or to produce in evidence a document or thing in the person's control that is relevant to the inquest. As well, the coroner may permit any person who wishes to give evidence at an inquest to testify.

After hearing the evidence, the jury shall determine the identity of the deceased and how, when, where and by what means the deceased died. The jury must not make any finding of legal responsibility.

The jury may make any recommendations that it considers to be of assistance in preventing similar deaths. The chief coroner will bring the recommendations to the appropriate minister, person, agency or department of government.

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