Report on 2015 Inquests

Office of the Chief Coroner

Office of the Chief Coroner
Report on 2015 Inquests


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Message from the Chief Coroner
Introduction
Verdicts and Recommendations
2015 Summary
Comprehensive Report on 2015 Inquests
Evaluation of Responses
Summary of Inquests (2015) – Based on Type of Inquest
Summary of Inquests – 2015
Historical Analysis of Inquests 2009 – 2015
Rates of Responses to All Recommendations 2009 – 2015
Analysis of Responses to Recommendations from Individual Inquests


Message from the Chief Coroner

Historically, coroner’s inquests are one part of the Office of the Chief Coroner’s work that resonates most with the public, likely because they are held in the public realm and are an opportunity to learn more about the circumstances of death with an intention to prevent similar deaths in the future.  There have been many inquest recommendations over the years that have resulted in social change to advance public safety such as road safety and how police and the courts handle incidents of domestic violence. While there is a strong case for the benefits of inquests, there are also a number of other ways that death investigations can yield public safety recommendations. The Office of the Chief Coroner also has death review committees that look at specific types of deaths and like inquests, may provide recommendations to governments, agencies and others. Sometimes, recommendations may stem from death investigations themselves if during the course of an investigation it is clear that steps can be taken to help avoid future deaths.

One of the tasks identified in the 2015-2020 Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Forensic Pathology Service Strategic Plan is to look at Ontario’s inquest system to determine if it is effectively and efficiently meeting our objectives. We are currently engaged in this process and are considering a number of opportunities to enhance how inquests are done in our province. Above all, we want to ensure that any steps taken represent an effort to improve community safety.

One of the observations from our review is that many respondents to recommendations found the coding structure to be ambiguous which may have led to its inconsistent application. In some instances, respondents only reply with a code and no actual description of how the recommendation is being acted on.  The ultimate goal of responses is to solicit meaningful information from named agencies to improve public safety. We therefore decided to eliminate the coding structure and also reduce the response time from 12 months to six months. We are hoping that these changes will provide for a more open-ended and flexible approach that does not limit or guide responses within the confines of a coding structure and it is a similar format to that used by the Auditor General and Ombudsman. The reduced timeframe will hopefully encourage engagement while the inquest is still current.

This report is a summary of statistics and information for the 32 inquests that were conducted in 2015. The inquests are a testament to the hard work of our dedicated staff members of the Inquest Unit, our inquest coroners, coroner’s counsel and coroner’s constables and investigators. Above all, I recognize the difficult process that inquests can be for families and loved ones of the decedents. Thank you for your strength, patience and cooperation during these inquests which can inform strategies for the improvement of safety for others.

Dirk Huyer, MD
Chief Coroner for Ontario


Introduction

What is an Inquest?

An inquest is an open and public hearing conducted by a coroner before a jury of five community members. Inquests are held in the public interest for the purpose of informing the public about the circumstances of a death. No one is on trial at an inquest and the jury cannot make findings of guilt or blame, or imply responsibility on any person(s) or agency, organization or other entity. The inquest is intended to make the facts of a death public and to identify, if possible, how similar deaths might be prevented.

The purpose of an inquest is to answer the following five questions:

  • Who was the deceased?
  • Where did the death occur?
  • When did the death occur?
  • How did the death occur (the medical cause)?
  • By what means did the death occur? (i.e. manner of death)

“By what means” or “manner of death” includes the following categories: Natural, Accident, Homicide, Suicide, and Undetermined.

It is hoped the jury will make recommendations that if implemented, may prevent future deaths in similar circumstances, thereby advancing public safety.

Types of Inquests

There are two types of inquests: mandatory and discretionary.

Mandatory inquests: Under the Coroners Act, an inquest must be called if the death occurred;

  • accidentally, at a construction worksite, mining, pit or quarry site.
  • by non-natural means while in a correctional facility.
  • while detained by or in the actual custody of a peace officer.
  • While involuntarily confined in a psychiatric facility where the use of mechanical restraints were a factor in the death.
  • involving a child under  circumstances  described in Section 72 Child and Family Services Act.

Discretionary inquests: Discretionary inquests are called when it is believed there may be systemic issues that, when explored through the inquest process, could advance public safety. Discretionary inquests can also be called to correct misinformation and when there is new information that could benefit segments of the public who may be in a position to effect change.

There are several factors that a coroner takes into account when deciding whether to hold a discretionary inquest. Consideration is given to whether the answers to the five questions are known and whether there is public benefit to have an open and full hearing of the circumstances of a death.

An inquest allows juries to make recommendations with goal to inform change to prevent deaths in similar circumstances. This preventative function is an important aspect of inquests because it encourages changes that can result in a safer environment for the people of Ontario. Recommendations from inquests have informed changes to legislation (e.g. graduated licensing and labour laws), policy (e.g. how the police and courts administer justice), procedures (e.g. how children are protected and how safe medical practices are encouraged) and product development (e.g. safety mechanisms for motorized vehicles and other consumer goods).

There is no legislated time limit between the date of death and when an inquest is held.


Verdicts and Recommendations

Following the inquest, organizations and/or agencies are notified that there are recommendations directed to them. They are provided with a copy of the verdict, recommendations and a short summary of the circumstances of the death and rationale for the recommendations.  Recipients are asked to respond to the Office of the Chief Coroner within one year of receipt*. While they are under no legal obligation to implement recommendations or respond, most organizations and agencies provide a response.

*As of February 2017, recipients are being asked to respond within six months of receipt to engage while the inquest is still current.


2015 Summary

The following statistics reflect inquests for the 2015 calendar year:

  • 32 inquests were held
  • the average length of an inquest was 4 days
  • 3 (9%) of the inquests conducted were discretionary
  • 29 (91%) of the inquests conducted were mandatory (custody, construction, mining and psychiatric)

Of the 29 inquests which were mandatory inquests:

  • 11 (34%) were deaths that occurred either in police custody 4 (36%) or were individuals detained in a corrections or mental health facility 7 (64%)
  • 14 (44%) were construction
  • 3 (9%) were mining deaths
  • 1 (3 %) were psychiatric deaths

Of the deaths that were the subject of an inquest in 2015:

  • 3 (9%) were natural
  • 22 (69%) were accidents
  • 2 (6%) were suicides
  • 5 (16%) were homicides
  • 0% were undetermined
  • 100% of the construction inquests and 100% of the mining inquests were accidental deaths

Recommendations and responses:

A total of 252 recommendations were made during 28 of the 32 inquests held. The number of recommendations ranged from zero recommendations in 12.5% of the inquests, to as many as 49 recommendations.

Of the organizations and agencies that received recommendations, an overall response rate of 55% was provided, i.e. specific recipient responses as a percentage of the total number of recipients receiving recommendations.  The total number of responses is greater than the number of actual recommendations as individual recommendations are frequently directed to more than one organization.

Review of the responses received indicated that of the recommendations provided:

  • 9% have been implemented
  • 3.7% will be implemented
  •  2.6% had alternates implemented
  • 1% will implement alternates
  • 23.3% are under consideration
  • 16.8% noted the content or intent of the recommendation was already in place
  • 0% reported unresolved issues
  • 1.3 % rejected the recommendations without providing a reason
  • 5.3% did not apply to the agency assigned*
  • 0.8 % were rejected due to flaws
  • 36.2% - a code 6, “no response” code was assigned where no response to a recommendation was received from an organization.

*In some instances, the recipient will advise the Office of the Chief Coroner of another organization which may be in a better position to respond to the recommendation. The recommendation is then redirected to the suggested recipient.


Comprehensive Report on 2015 Inquests

This chart provides an overall summary of the inquests that took place in 2015, including the number of recommendations stemming from the inquest, the type of inquest (mining, custody, construction or discretionary), how the person died (accident, suicide, natural or homicide), the inquest length, how many organizations received recommendations and the recipient response rate.

Table A: Summary of Inquests

Table A
Inquest Number # Recs Inquest Type By What Means # Days # Orgs. Asked To Respond % Responses
1 2015-01 2 Construction A 2 2 0
2 2015-02 7 Construction A 2 2 50
3 2015-03 3 Custody H 6 3 100
4 2015-04 6 Construction A 5 3 66.7
5 2015-05 7 Construction A 3 4 25
6 2015-06 3 Construction A 2 3 66.7
7 2015-07 11 Custody N 9 1 100
8 2015-08 4 Custody H 6 3 33.3
9 2015-09 24 Mining A 10 4 100
10 2015-10 0 Custody H 1 0 N/A
11 2015-11 1 Mining A 1 1 100
12 2015-12 22 Construction A 4 4 50
13 2015-13 49 Discretionary A 12 23 65.2
14 2015-14 12 Construction A 2 2 50
15 2015-15 0 Custody H 2 0 N/A
16 2015-16 16 Discretionary A 15 4 100
17 2015-17 1 Custody N 2 1 100
18 2015-18 3 Custody S 4 2 100
19 2015-19 2 Custody A 7 2 50
20 2015-20 13 Construction A 3 1 0
21 2015-21 11 Construction A 4 5 40
22 2015-22 4 Mining A 2 5 20
23 2015-23 6 Construction A 3 2 100
24 2015-24 12 Custody S 5 2 0
25 2015-25 3 Construction A 2 2 50
26 2015-26 3 Construction A 2 1 0
27 2015-27 3 Psychiatric N 5 2 100
28 2015-28 3 Construction A 1 1 0
29 2015-29 4 Construction A 1 1 0
30 2015-30 0 Custody A 1 0 N/A
31 2015-31 17 Discretionary H 9 5 60
32 2015-32 0 Custody A 1 0 N/A

Note:  In some cases, the number of responding organizations exceeded the actual number of organizations asked to respond. This occurs as initial recipients may advise the Office of the Chief Coroner of another organization which may be in a better position to respond to the recommendation. The recommendation is then redirected to the suggested recipient.

In addition, individual recommendations are often directed to more than one organization therefore, the total number of responses may be greater than the total number of recommendations.

Cust = custody; Const = construction; Disc = discretionary; Psych = psychiatric; N = natural;   ; A = accident; S = suicide; H = homicide; U = undetermined


Evaluation of Responses

Organizations and agencies are asked to respond individually to recommendations and are requested to self-evaluate their responses with the codes listed below. Responses that are not “self-analyzed” are reviewed by staff at the Office of the Chief Coroner and assigned response codes.

Responses to jury recommendations are evaluated according to the following codes:

Response Code Explanation:

1          Recommendation has been implemented.

1A       Recommendation will be implemented.

1B       Alternative recommendation has been implemented.

1C       Alternative recommendation will be implemented.

2          The recommendation is under consideration.

3          There are unresolved issues with the recommendation that need to be addressed.

4          The recommendation is rejected.

4A       The recommendation is rejected due to flaws.

4B       The recommendation is rejected due to lack of resources.

5          The recommendation did not apply to the agency assigned.

6          There was no response to the recommendation.

7          The response could not be evaluated (e.g: response was vague, response did not address stated recommendation, etc.)

8          Content or intent of recommendation already in place


Summary of Inquests (2015) – Based on Type of Inquest

Table B
Type Total # of Recs % of Total Recs Total # of Inquests % of Total Inquests Avg # of Recs per Inquest Avg % Response Rate* Total # Days in Inquest Avg # Days in Inquest
Discretionary 82 33 3 9 27 36 12
Custody 36 14 11 34 3 69 44 4
Construction 102 40 14 44 7 36 36 3
Mining 29 12 3 9 10 73 13 4
Psychiatric 3 1 1 3 3 100 5 5
Total 252 100 32 99 8 55 134 4

 *Note: the number of organizations that were asked to respond versus the number of organizations that did respond (as a percentage).

Figure 1 - Percentage of Inquests by Type – 2015

Figure 1 1. Percentage of Inquest by Type – 2015. (Page 10) This image is a pie chart which shows the percentage of inquests by type. Construction 44%, Custody-35%, Mining-9%, Psychiatric-3% and Discretionary-9%.



Summary of Inquests – 2015

Figure 2 - Average Number of Recommendations, Inquest Type – 2015

Figure 2: This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations by inquest type. Construction-7, Custody-3, Mining-10, Psychiatric-3 and Discretionary-27.

Figure 3 - Percentage of Total Recommendations, Inquest Type – 2015

Figure 3 This image is a pie chart which displays the percentage of total recommendations by type of inquest. Construction-40%, Custody-14%, Mining-12%, Psychiatric-1% and Discretionary-33%.

Figure 4 - Average Number of Days per Inquest – 2015

Figure 4 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of days per inquest.  Discretionary-12, Custody-4, Construction-3, Mining-4 and Psychiatric 5.

Figure 5 - Average Rate of Agency Response, Inquest Type - 2015

 Figure 5 This image is a bar chart which displays the average response rate by type of inquest. Discretionary-75%, Custody-69%, Construction-36%, Mining-73% and Psychiatric 100%.

Figure 6 - Percentage of Inquests, Manner of Death – 2015

Figure 6 This image is a pie chart which displays the percentage of inquests by manner of death. Natural-9%, Accident-69%, Suicide-6%, Homicide-16%, Undetermined-0%.


Historical Analysis of Inquests 2009 – 2015

Table C
    Totals 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Total Number of Inquests 72 58 34 37 33 44 32
Number of Construction Inquests (Mandatory) 18 18 10 11 12 15 14
Number of Custody Inquests (Mandatory) 49 33 17 16 17 24 11
Number of Mining Inquests (Mandatory) 4 5 1 1 2 2 3
Number of Psychiatric Inquests (Mandatory) 0 0 0 0 0 0 1
Total Number of Mandatory Inquests 71 56 28 28 31 41 29
Total Number of Discretionary Inquests 1 2 6 9 2 3 3

Figure 7 - Total Number of Recommendations, 2009 - 2015

Figure 7 This image is a bar chart which displays the total number of recommendations for each year from 2009 to 2015. 2009-354, 2010-282, 2011-355, 2012-316, 2013-271, 2014-572, 2015-252.

Figure 8 - Average Number of Recommendations per Inquest, 2009 – 2015

Figure 8 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per inquest per year from 2009 to 2015. 2009-4.9, 2010-4.9, 2011-10.4, 2012-9.3, 2013-8.2, 2014-13, 2015-8.

Figure 9 - Average Number of Recommendations Per Discretionary Inquests, 2009–2015

Figure 9 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per Discretionary inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-7, 2010-30.5, 2011-22.3, 2012-19, 2013-6, 2014-48, 2015-27.

Figure 10 - Average Number of Recommendations Per Custody Inquests, 2009 – 2015

Figure 10 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per Custody inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-4.4, 2010-3.5, 2011-9.3, 2012-6.3, 2013-11.35, 2014-14.1, 2015-3.

Figure 11- Average Number of Recommendations Per Construction Inquests, 2009 – 2015

Figure 11 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per Construction inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-4.6, 2010-4.2, 2011-4, 2012-2.6, 2013-4, 2014-5.7, 2015-7.3.

Figure 12 - Average Number of Recommendations per Mining Inquests, 2009 – 2015

Figure 12  This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per Mining inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-11.8, 2010-5.4, 2011-21, 2012-15, 2013-8.5, 2014-2, 2015-9.7

Figure 13 - Average Number of Recommendations per Psychiatric Inquests, 2009 – 2015

Figure 13  This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of recommendations per Psychiatric inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-0, 2010-0, 2011-0, 2012-0, 2013-0, 2014-0, 2015-3.

Figure 14 - Average Number of Days Per Inquest, 2009 – 2015

Figure 14 This image is a bar chart which displays the average number of days per inquest from 2009 to 2015. 2009-3, 2010-3.75, 2011-6, 2012-6, 2013-7.5, 2014-8, 2015-4.

Figure 15 - Inquests with No Recommendations, Inquest Type, 2009 – 2015

Figure 15 This bar chart image shows that the number of inquests with no recommendations has generally decreased across all types from 2009-2015

Figure 16 - Inquests with No Recommendations, Totals, 2009 – 2015

Figure 16 This bar chart image shows the annual total number and percentages of the total number of inquests with no recommendations from 2009-2015.   2009: Total=26, Percentage=28 2010: Total=19, Percentage=36 2011: Total=7, Percentage=33 2012: Total=4, Percentage=21 2013: Total=8, Percentage=11 2014: Total=5, Percentage=11 2015: Total=4, Percentage=12.5


Rates of Responses to All Recommendations 2009 – 2015
Table D
2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015
Rates of responses to recommendations (% of organizations asked to respond, that did respond) 79% 83% 75% 80.6% 69% 75% 55%
Discretionary Inquests 67% 69% 69% 80% 75% 100% 75%
Mandatory Inquests (total) 83% 84% 76% 80% 68% 74% 52%
Custody 79% 93% 83% 86% 72% 84% 69%
Construction 88% 75% 65% 69% 62% 59% 36%
Mining 83% 75% 100% 67% 81% 33% 73%
Psychiatric - - - - - - 100%

Note:  Percentages may not equal 100 due to rounding off.
 


Analysis of Responses to Recommendations from Individual Inquests

Inquest verdicts and recommendations for inquests completed as of January 2014 are available on the Ontario Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services website in the Death Investigations section. Verdict explanations (which contain the verdict, recommendations and the coroner’s summary of evidence), selected inquest rulings and all other inquest documentation completed prior to January 2014 are available upon request at the e-mail listed below.


Contact

Office of the Chief Coroner
25 Morton Shulman Avenue
Toronto, ON M3M 0B1
416-314-4000
E-Mail: occ.inquiries@ontario.ca