The Yukon’s minister of justice has tabled a new version of the territory’s Coroners Act, which, if passed, would mark mark the first time the legislation has received a major overhaul in 60 years.
Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee tabled the proposed legislation, titled Bill 27, in the legislative assembly on Oct. 2.
“I think it’s an important thing for us to change, and I worked over the years with the current Coroners Act … It simply was not meeting the needs of Yukoners with respect to the duties and responsibilities of the coroner,” McPhee said in a phone interview Oct. 9, noting the changes in best practices, language and technology that have occurred over the decades.
The current act, based on the old Coroners Ordinance 1958, was originally created in 1958 and has received minimal updates since then.
The proposed act sees the addition of several new responsibilities and requirements to the legislation, including the mandatory appointment of a chief coroner; the creation of a list of coroners with suitable knowledge of the law to preside over inquests; mandating that jails, health facilities and group homes that must report to the coroner when a death occurs within their care; allowing the justice minister to order a coroner’s inquest and allowing families to formally request an inquest.
There are also a number of clarifications on the responsibilities and roles of a coroner, such as a new provision ensuring that remains can be released for burial after they’re no longer needed for investigation.
“There have been instances where there is no one to take custody of a person or sometimes, to be frank with you, body parts that are returned to the coroner as part of an autopsy or something, and there is no provision at all in the current legislation for the coroner to deal with those situations,” McPhee said, explaining that the new act would allow for a coroner to arrange for unclaimed remains to be buried.
Other notable changes include larger fines for violating the act (for example, failing to report a death to the coroner when required to do so will cost an offender $500 under the new act, compared to $100 under the current one) and the replacement of some words in favour of more modern terms — for example, “inquiry” will become “investigation” instead.
McPhee said that none of the changes were triggered by any particular case or situation that’s taken place in the Yukon, but instead were inspired by a scan of the modern legislation used by other provinces and territories.
In an Oct. 2 press release, Yukon chief coroner Heather Jones said she welcomed a modernized act.
“I am looking forward to having the new act address necessary modern practices,” she said in the release. “These will allow us to continue to provide high-quality death investigations and inquests, ensuring that no death will be overlooked, concealed or ignored.”
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