Our communities are better off thanks to the work of coroners
When something scares me, I try my best to avoid it. I know that I am not alone in this. During my years as a reporter covering hard-news stories, I would feel scared when a coroner arrived on scene because I knew that meant someone had died. I’ve covered fatal car crashes and boating accidents that ended in drownings and have stood behind the police tape outside homes where murder-suicides occurred.
I don’t cover hard news stories any more, but when I turn to social media for an update on a road closure, I always feel something in the pit of my stomach when I read the words: “The coroner has arrived on scene.”
Death is scary and unpleasant, and it means someone’s family link has been broken.
Only recently have I taken the time to learn more about the B.C. Coroners Service and how it’s enhancing our community. It really threw me for a loop, because I’d never thought about positives that could come from the coroners. I always thought only of the scary part of their work.
On Nov. 1, the B.C. Coroners Service won a Premier’s Award for evidencebased design for its data collection on the public-health crisis caused by fentanyl. The Coroners Service works to collect the data about these deaths that are helping to save the lives of others.
“We are looking into toxicology reports, what preventative measures could be implemented and the stigma that people face,” said Andy Watson, manager of strategic communications for the B.C. Coroners Service, explaining the service is analyzing the information to determine why people are dying and what resources are available. The data collected help determined where the nine supervised consumption sites and 21 overdose prevention sites are located across our province. There are two of each in Greater Victoria.
“Finding someone with drug paraphernalia doesn’t mean they died of a drug overdose. Even if someone sees something obvious, we need evidence,” said Watson, adding that nearly 1,500 people died of fentanyl overdoses in 2017.
“We investigate all sudden, unexpected and unnatural deaths,” he said. “We can make recommendations to help prevent future deaths.”
These recommendations aren’t just for drug overdoses, they can be offered in all types of situations, such as tightening up life-jacket regulations after a boating accident.
I can’t imagine what it would feel like to lose a family member where a coroner would need to investigate.
“It’s a vulnerable time, and we offer additional supports,” said Watson. “We try and supply supports and make a connection with the family.”
Regardless of how a death occurs, the reaction to the death varies from family to family. How people react to death is personal and cultural, and the B.C. Coroners Service is mindful of this.
“It makes us take a step back and ask people what their practices are,” Watson said. “B.C. is a multicultural society with rich, wonderful cultures who all grieve differently.”
To put things in perspective, there are nearly 200 First Nations in British Columbia and every First Nation has its own protocols around someone’s passing. I have spent a lot of time in Indigenous communities since I moved here nearly 17 years ago and over this time, I have seen similarities and differences among various nations.
B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe signed a declaration of Commitment to Cultural Safety and Humility with the First Nations Health Authority, the Ministry of Health and the provincial health authorities.
The Coroners Service isn’t just working to be culturally sensitive with Indigenous communities, it’s working to be sensitive to all cultures in this province, and I find that very impressive.
It has been a lesson to me to look a little closer at the organizations and people who serve our communities and provide essential services, even if they sound a bit scary. Our province is better for the work the B.C. Coroners Service is doing, and I am sure there are so many other positive stories that come out of scary situations.
The B.C. Coroners Service won a Premier’s Award on Nov. 1. Back row: Aubrey Baldock, left, Timothy Wiles, Eric Petit, Susan Stapleton, Premier John Horgan, Vince Stancato, Michael Egilson and Brian Emerson. Front row: Maria Salas, left, Tej Sidhu, Lisa Lapointe and Parveen Thind.