Chief Coroner Terry Smith has finally scheduled a coroner’s inquest into the death of Sherry Charlie, more than three years after the unfortunate little girl died. He said the delay was because investigative processes by other agencies had to be completed first. Nonsense! A coroner’s inquest is a fact-finding, not a fault-finding, investigation. It should take place quickly in any case of unexplained sudden death, while witnesses’ memories are still fresh. The facts uncovered at an inquest can then be used by other investigators in their work, for example, to determine whether criminal charges are warranted.

In 1997, when Larry Campbell was the Province’s Chief Coroner, 34 coroner’s inquests were held, with an average elapsed time between the date of death and the inquest date of 6.4 months. It is hard to get current statistics, since the BC Coroners Service has not published an Annual Report since 2001, but I have learned that only 13 inquests were held last year.

Despite a 62% reduction in the coroner’s inquest workload, it now seems to take years before inquests are scheduled in many cases. For example, the coroner’s inquest into the death of Jeff Berg commenced in June, 2004, nearly four years after his death at the hands of Vancouver police on October 24, 2000.

The delays in the BC Coroners Service processes are unconscionable to the families of the deceased and the public, and Smith and Solicitor General John Les should be pressed for a better explanation for them than those offered so far.