Changes to the Yukon’s Coroner’s Act have been made in an effort to modernize the legislation and allow families of deceased people greater influence on the process. The Yukon Government promises that the Coroner’s Service will continue their timely and compassionate investigations under the new legislation.
The updates to the act came into force on Aug. 19. Included among them is the ability for families to request an inquest into the death of their loved ones.
Michelle McDonnell, director of regulatory services for the Yukon Government’s department of Justice, said the exact process for families to request an inquest is being developed but it will be the Justice Minister rather than the Yukon’s chief coroner who will get the final say on requests for an inquest from families.
McDonnell said the new act will allow families to present the reasons they believe there should be an inquest to the minister even if the coroner had decided there wouldn’t be one. From there, the minister would determine if an inquest is in the public interest.
Tyler Plaunt, a senior policy analyst for the department of Justice, said the Coroner’s Service remains at arm’s length from the government and lots of faith is placed in the chief coroner to review and make good choices. He noted that requests for an inquest just add another layer to the process in which families can plead their case with the minister if they feel the coroner did not consider all the facts when weighing public interest against the privacy of the deceased.
The updated act will also require that coroner’s inquests be presided over by a senior lawyer, medical examiner, coroner, or judge of the territorial court.
Plaunt said under the previous legislation, either the chief coroner or a judge could preside. He said research during the development of the new act led them to believe more flexibility could be written in to the legislation. Because each inquest is different, Plaunt said the new law gives the chief coroner and the Minister of Justice ability to find a good presiding coroner for the specific situation.
The updated act also includes expanded requirements for notifying the Coroner’s Service of an unexplained or unexpected death. This includes the deaths of children and deaths that occur when people are detained at a government institution.
“The new Coroner’s Act ensures that Yukoners have access to a modernized Yukon Coroner’s Service if they are ever in a circumstance to need it. To develop this legislation, we sought input from Yukoners, coroners, the RCMP, medical practitioners and First Nation governments on ways to better serve the public while maintaining the integrity of coroner investigations,” said Justice Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee.
Plaunt said work on modernizing the legislation included a public engagement period in 2018 and a review of Coroners Acts from other jurisdictions in Canada. The new act replaces one based on the Yukon Coroners Ordinance of 1958 which was amended only a few times since its creation.
“I believe this act helps the Yukon Coroner’s Service meet the needs of all Yukoners in the reporting and investigations of unexpected deaths in our communities. The modernized processes and procedures sparked by this new Act are in the public interest,” said Heather Jones, the Yukon’s chief coroner.
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