The Coroner Service conducts investigations into deaths that are unnatural, unexpected, unexplained or unattended.
Coroners determine the identity of the deceased and cause of death. They classify the manner of death as natural, accidental, homicide, suicide, or undetermined.
The Coroner Service is assisted by RCMP in coroner cases. In cases where the death is considered suspicious or foul play is apparent, the RCMP will lead a criminal investigation and will be assisted by the Coroner Service.
The coroner issues a warrant for possession of the body for their investigation. The coroner will authorize the release of the body in 24-48 hours if no autopsy is ordered.
The coroner may order a post-mortem examination to determine the cause, identification of the remains, document injuries, and to assist in determining the manner of death. A coroner usually orders a forensic autopsy if foul play is suspected.
Once the autopsy procedure is completed, the remains are released to a funeral home, where they will follow the wishes of the family.
An inquest is a formal court proceeding that allows for the public presentation of all evidence relating to a death.
An inquest may be held to inform the public of the circumstances of the death where it will serve some public purpose; to bring dangerous practices or conditions to the knowledge of the public and facilitate the making of recommendations to avoid preventable deaths.
The inquest will also determine the identity of the deceased, how, where, when and by what means the deceased came to his or her death.
A six-person jury is chosen from the jury roll and swear or affirm to "diligently inquire into the death and determine on the evidence presented at the inquest his/her identity, how, when, where and by what means the deceased came to his or her death and without partiality or bias towards any person render a true verdict."
No one is on trial at an inquest. The presiding coroner and the coroner's counsel assisting the presiding coroner must protect the goals of the inquest - to bring out the facts relating to the circumstances of the death in a fair and balanced way and allow the jury to make useful and practical recommendations that may prevent similar deaths.
The strict rules of evidence do not apply at an inquest but proper courtroom behaviour and protocol are required to protect the importance and integrity of the proceeding. Witnesses are summoned to testify about their knowledge of or involvement in the circumstance of death. With the assistance of the coroner's counsel and the presiding coroner, jurors may ask questions of witnesses. Physical evidence may be entered as exhibits. Following the presentation of the evidence, parties will be allowed to address the jury and make suggestions about their findings and possible recommendations. The coroner's counsel wlll make submissions and then the presiding coroner will charge the members of the jury, reminding them of their oath and advising them of the law as it applies to their verdict.