When a person's death is unexpected and the cause of death is not immediately known or when the death is the result of violence due to an accident, suicide, or homicide, it will be investigated by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Under these circumstances it may be helpful for the next of kin to know about the procedures followed before and after an inquiry or investigation conducted by the Chief Medical Examiner's Office.
The following deaths are reportable to a medical examiner: as a result of an accident, by an act of suicide, negligence or homicide, in an unexpected or unexplained manner, as a result of poisoning, as a result of contracting a contagious disease that is a threat to public health, suddenly of unknown cause, during a pregnancy or during recovery from a pregnancy, while under anesthesia or while recovering from an anesthesia or within 10 days of a surgical operation performed upon the person, while in the custody of a police officer, as a result of: contracting a disease or condition; sustaining an injury; or ingesting a toxic substance, at the place of employment or former employment of the person, within 24 hours of admission of the person to a hospital, in a place, institution or facility that is prescribed or is of a class of place, institution or facility that is prescribed, or in circumstances that are prescribed; at the time of death, the deceased person was not under the case of a duly qualified medical practitioner for the condition that brought on the death, or was a resident of an institution or care facility that is licensed, or is required by an Act of the Legislature to be licensed, to operate as a residential institution or care facility; the deceased person died while a resident in a correctional institution, jail, prison, or military guardroom or in an institution to which The Mental Health Act applies; or the deceased person is a child.
The Manitoba Fatality Inquiries Act gives the Chief Medical Examiner the responsibility for the investigation of all unexpected and violent deaths occurring in the Province. Medical doctors throughout Manitoba are appointed as Medical Examiners and carry out investigations on behalf of the Chief Medical Examiner's Office. They are assisted in their investigation by medical examiner's investigators or police officers.
In the case of an unexpected or violent death the attending physician cannot legally sign a Death Certificate, or if the attending physician fails to issue a Death Certificate within 48 hours of death. Through the investigation the medical examiner will determine the cause and manner of death, establish the date, time and place of death and confirm the deceased person's identity. Once these questions have been answered to the satisfaction of the medical examiner the Death Certificate can be signed.
The medical examiner takes charge of the deceased person. Unless authorization is received from the medical examiner, the body will not be moved or disturbed in any way.
The medical examiner will then obtain the deceased's past medical history by interviewing next of kin and by reviewing any available medical charts or records. An autopsy may be performed to gather further information about the cause of death.
The medical examiner has the authority to dispose of any soiled or damaged clothing belonging to the deceased person and can take possession of anything related directly to the investigation or for the purposes of an Inquest. Any valuables will be kept in safekeeping by the investigator and/or Public Guardian and Trustee and will usually be returned to the next of kin.
If the medical examiner cannot establish both the manner and the cause of death with reasonable medical certainty, an autopsy will be authorized. In the case of a death of a child that might be the result of an accident, suicide, homicide or other unnatural cause, an autopsy is mandatory. The medical examiner will also authorize an autopsy if the death is part of a police investigation. The medical examiner does not require permission from the next of kin to proceed with an autopsy.
The medical examiner makes every effort to complete the investigation quickly and efficiently so the body can be released to the next of kin. When this occurs the family can then proceed with the funeral arrangements.
There is no charge to the next of kin for the investigation conducted by the Chief Medical Examiner's office. The Minister of Justice assumes responsibility for the cost of the investigation.
Upon completion of the investigation the medical examiner submits a report to the Chief Medical Examiner. This report will normally answer questions about the cause and manner of death, the date, time and place of death and summarize the circumstances surrounding the death. If an autopsy is performed as part of the investigation, the doctor performing the autopsy also submits a report. Both the medical examiner's report and the autopsy report are available to the adult next of kin upon written request to the Chief Medical Examiner's office. (An autopsy is an intricate medical procedure, often requiring complex laboratory tests, and for this reason autopsy results may not be available for several weeks after the death. This means the medical examiner's report may not be immediately available to the family.)
The medical examiner's report and the autopsy report may also be requested by attending physicians and medical reports departments of hospitals. Other interested parties, such as an insurer of the life of the deceased or a legal representative of the deceased, may receive the report upon written request and payment of the prescribed fee under The Fatality Inquiries Act.
The need for an Inquest, (a court hearing to examine the facts surrounding a death), is determined by the Chief Medical Examiner. Although not all cases investigated by the Chief Medical Examiner require Inquests, the Chief Medical Examiner may call an Inquest if he feels the general public will benefit from the information being made public during such a hearing. The next of kin will be advised if an Inquest is to be called and they will be given notice of the date, time and location of the Inquest. If an Inquest is not called, the Chief Medical Examiner may, depending on the circumstances of the death, refer it to The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, to all levels of Government, or to other professional bodies for their assessment, action, or recommendation.
Inquests are usually held in Provincial Court in front of a Provincial Judge. The purpose of the Inquest is to examine the facts surrounding the cause and manner of death. A Crown attorney represents the public interest and will call witnesses to testify under oath. The next of kin may be represented by a lawyer who may cross-examine witnesses. For information on funding requests related to legal fees at Inquests, click here. Following the Inquest the judge may make recommendations which could prevent similar deaths from occurring. The Inquest process shall not be a means to determine culpability with respect to the death that is the subject of the Inquest.
(Office hours are from 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday)
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner
210-1 Wesley Avenue
Winnipeg, MB R3C 4C6
General Office (204) 945-2088
Toll Free 1-800-282-8069
Answering Service: (204) 945-2088 (after hours)