Coroners hindered by budget cuts: Audit

Government urged to 'step back' to ensure independence

Budget cuts are hampering the B.C. Coroners Service’s ability to more broadly investigate deaths and find ways to prevent them, B.C. Auditor-General John Doyle has concluded.

His audit found the service is meeting its basic duties but could do much more within the scope of the Coroners Act.

“A declining budget, coupled with escalating investigation expenses, are negatively impacting the quality of service,” Doyle found. “This has the potential for more significant long-term repercussions.”

The service’s budget was cut from $15 million to $13 million this year.

Doyle also called on the province to clarify the coroners service’s role and then “step back to preserve the organization’s independence.”

Individual coroners maintain their independence to ensure unbiased findings, he found, but warned current administrative reporting requirements have “created real and perceived risks to the operational independence of the B.C. Coroners Service.”

The service has been through three chief coroners since 2009 and been headed by an acting chief for long stints.

“In the absence of steady leadership, management decisions in recent years have often been short-term reactions to issues of the day,” the audit said.

Autopsy and body transport fees have risen, but the budget has gone down, so the service has been forced to cut back on areas like training.

The audit provides eight recommendations for bolstering the coroners service and its role.

It also raised concern that the service’s Child Death Review Unit is short-handed, slowing its progress in reviewing a significant backlog of child death cases.

NDP public safety critic Kathy Corrigan said the government shouldn’t short-change a service that can help prevent deaths.

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