Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services :: Common Questions About Death Investigations

Death Investigations


Common Questions About Death Investigations


General Questions

What are coroners?

Coroners are medical doctors with specialized death investigation training, who have been appointed to investigate sudden deaths as mandated by the Coroners Act.

What are pathologists and forensic pathologists?

Pathologists are medical doctors who are experts in disease and injury. Forensic pathologists have further training and are experts in disease and injury that result in sudden death. Pathologists and forensic pathologists are the medical doctors who perform autopsies, when required. Forensic pathologists may also be appointed as coroners to investigate cases of suspicious death.

What is a death investigation?

A death investigation is a process whereby a coroner or forensic pathologist seeks to understand how and why a person died. A coroner or forensic pathologist must answer five questions when investigating a death:

  • Who (identity of the deceased)
  • When (date of death)
  • Where (location of death)
  • How (medical cause of death)
  • By what means (natural causes, accident, homicide, suicide or undetermined)

Information may be obtained from several sources including, but not limited to family, co-workers, neighbours, doctors, hospital records, police and other emergency service workers. Contact with family is vital as they often have important information that can aid the investigation.

How are police involved?

Police are usually among the first responders at a death scene. The Coroners Act states that coroners may request police assistance with investigations.

Why is a coroner called?

A coroner is called to investigate deaths that appear to be from unnatural causes or natural deaths that occur suddenly or unexpectedly. Additionally, a coroner may become involved when concerns are raised regarding the care provided to an individual prior to death.

What is a reportable death?

Under the Coroners Act, certain types of deaths must be reported to a coroner. These reportable deaths include, but are not limited to:

  • deaths that occur suddenly and unexpectedly
  • deaths at a construction or mining site
  • deaths while in police custody or while a person is incarcerated in a correctional facility
  • deaths that appear to be the result of an accident, suicide or homicide

A full explanation of reportable deaths can be found in the Coroners Act.

Who can contact a coroner to report a death?

While deaths are generally reported to the coroner by health care workers or the police, anyone, including a family member, should immediately contact the police and a coroner when a reportable death occurs.

Will a death investigation affect funeral or ceremonial planning?

Funeral or ceremonial planning may be delayed if an autopsy is needed or if the death investigation takes additional time. Coroners and pathologists are aware that religious, spiritual or cultural practices may dictate time frames for funeral planning and other ceremonies or services. In such cases, families should notify the coroner immediately so that every effort can be made to accommodate these requests.

What happens to the body?

In most cases, the family makes arrangements to have the body transported from the place of death to the service provider chosen by the family. In some instances, the coroner will have the body transported to a hospital or forensic pathology unit for further examination, such as an autopsy.


Autopsy

What is an autopsy?

An autopsy, also known as a postmortem examination, is a process whereby a pathologist or forensic pathologist examines the decedent’s body to help determine cause of death. An autopsy usually includes the examination of internal organs.

Who decides whether an autopsy is needed?

The coroner, often in consultation with a forensic pathologist, will decide if an autopsy is needed.

How does a coroner address family concerns about an autopsy?

The coroner will explain the need for an autopsy and carefully assess concerns expressed by the family. However, the coroner will proceed with ordering an autopsy if he or she believes an autopsy is needed to inform the death investigation. The coroner’s decision is legal and binding.

Who performs the autopsy?

A pathologist or forensic pathologist performs the autopsy.

When is organ retention necessary?

In rare circumstances, an organ (usually the brain or heart) may need to be kept after an autopsy for further testing. During the autopsy, small tissue samples may also be kept for additional testing. The coroner will notify the family and ask for their direction about how the organ should be treated after this work is complete.

Can organs or tissues be donated after death?

In cases where a coroner is involved, donation of organs or tissues may be possible. Consenting families should advise the coroner of their wishes.


Obtaining Death Investigation Results

How do families obtain results from the death investigation?

The results of the death investigation can be shared with immediate family members or a personal representative, upon written request. Families may write to the regional office or complete and submit a request form. Forms can be obtained online, by contacting your regional office or by emailing OCC.Inquiries@ontario.ca.

When can families reasonably expect to receive death investigation reports?

Reports are provided once the death investigation is concluded. The length of time needed to complete an investigation varies depending on its complexity, including the number of tests required. Each death investigation is unique. Family members can contact the investigating coroner or the regional office for an update.

How do families obtain a death certificate?

Only the Office of the Registrar General of Ontario can issue a copy of a death certificate. Please visit ServiceOntario or call 416-325-8305 or toll free 1-800-461-2156 (Ontario only).


Inquest

What is an inquest?

An inquest is a public hearing designed to focus public attention on the circumstances of a death through an objective examination of facts. At the conclusion of an inquest, the five-person jury often makes useful recommendations that may prevent deaths in similar circumstances.

There are two types of inquests: mandatory (required by law) and discretionary (at the discretion of the coroner).


Contact

Office of the Chief Coroner and Forensic Pathology Service
25 Morton Shulman Avenue, Toronto, ON, M3M 0B1
Telephone: 1-877-991-9959 (toll free, Ontario only) , or 416-314-4000
Fax: 416-314-4030
Email: OCC.inquiries@ontario.ca
Web: www.ontario.ca/safety


Regional Supervising Coroner Offices

Central Region

Central East (formerly Brampton) Office: Tel: 647-329-1826 / Fax: 416-314-4030
Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex
25 Morton Shulman Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M3M 0B1
Boundaries: Durham, Muskoka, York
OCC.CentralEast@ontario.ca

Central West (formerly Guelph) Office: Tel: Tel: 647-329-1825 / Fax: 416-314-4030
Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex
25 Morton Shulman Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M3M 0B1
Boundaries: Halton, Peel, Simcoe, Wellington
OCC.CentralWest@ontario.ca

Toronto Offices:
Toronto East (east of Yonge St.) Tel: 647-329-1827 / Fax: 416-314-4030
Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex
25 Morton Shulman Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M3M 0B1
OCC.TorontoEast@ontario.ca

Toronto West (west of Yonge St.) Tel: 647-329-1828 / Fax: 416-314-4030
Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex
25 Morton Shulman Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M3M 0B1
OCC.TorontoWest@ontario.ca

East Region

Kingston Office: Tel: 613.544.1596 Fax: 613.544.3473
366 King Street East, Ste. 440, Kingston ON K7K 6Y3
Boundaries: Northumberland, Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, Peterborough, Frontenac, Hastings, Lennox & Addington, Prince Edwards County
OCC.Kingston@ontario.ca

Ottawa Office: Tel: 613-249-0055 ext. 206 / Fax: 613-249-0918
2380 St.-Laurent Boulevard
Ottawa, Ontario
K1G 6C4
Boundaries:  Lanark, Leeds & Grenville, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Prescott-Russell, Renfrew, Ottawa
Tel:  613-249-0055
Fax:  613-249-0918
OCC.Ottawa@ontario.ca

West Region

London Office: Tel: 519.661.6624 Fax: 519.661.6617
235 North Centre Rd., Ste. 303, London ON N5X 4E7
Boundaries: Bruce, Chatham-Kent,
Elgin, Essex, Grey, Huron,
Lambton, Middlesex, Perth, Oxford
OCC.London@ontario.ca

Hamilton Office: Tel: 905.546.8200 Fax: 905.546.8210
119 King Street West, 13th Floor, Hamilton ON L8P 4Y7
Boundaries: Brant, Dufferin, Haldimand,
Hamilton, Niagara Norfolk,
Waterloo
OCC.Hamilton@ontario.ca

North Region

Thunder Bay Office: Tel: 807.343.7663 Fax: 807.343.7665
189 Red River Road, 4th Floor, PO Box 4500, Thunder Bay ON P7B 6G9
Boundaries: Algoma, Cochrane, Kenora,
Rainy River, Thunder Bay
OCC.ThunderBay@ontario.ca

Sudbury Office: Tel: 705-564-6149 Fax: 705-564-6155
199 Larch Street, 2nd Floor, Sudbury ON P3E 5P9
Boundaries: Parry Sound, Manitoulin, Nipissing, Sudbury, Timiskaming, Algoma, Cochrane
OCC.Sudbury@ontario.ca