If you have questions about your loved one’s death, you may wish to have an autopsy done to find out how or why they passed away.
In certain cases, autopsies are required by law; otherwise, the family may request that an autopsy be done. This can be arranged through the hospital pathologist. The examination will result in a final report that may take weeks or months to complete.
There is no charge to the family when an autopsy is required by law; however, note that many hospitals will charge for an autopsy requested by the family, and most health plans will not cover an autopsy.
BC Coroners Service
The coroner will investigate deaths that are unnatural, sudden and unexpected, unexplained, unattended, all child deaths, and deaths that occur in custody or in designated institutions.
If the circumstances of your loved one’s death meet the requirements under Section 2 of the Coroners Act, the death must be reported to the coroner. To report a new death, call 1-855-207-0637.
The coroner will review the circumstances of the death, and the investigation will proceed as a natural death, a coroner’s investigation, or a coroner’s inquest.
Note that the coroner’s investigation is a fact-finding inquiry, not a fault-finding inquiry. The ultimate goal of the coroner’s investigation is to provide recommendations to improve public safety and prevent future deaths under similar circumstances.
Patient Care Quality Office
If you have concerns about the health care services that your loved one received, you can contact the Patient Care Quality Office (PCQO) in your health region to file a formal complaint.
The PCQO will formally register your complaint, and a Registered Nurse (RN) will rely on your loved one’s medical records to investigate your complaint. Note that allegations can only be substantiated insofar as they are supported by the medical records.
Following the investigation, the PCQO will provide you with a response to the complaint, and (if applicable) will explain any decisions or actions that were taken as a result of your complaint.
Patient Care Quality Review Board
If the response from the PCQO is inadequate, you can contact the Patient Care Quality Review Board (PCQRB) to request a review of the PCQO investigation. Requests can be made through an online review request, over the phone, or in writing via mail, fax or email.
If your application is accepted, the Review Board will inform the PCQO that a review is being conducted, and the application will be reviewed by a PCQRB employee. The employee will deliver their conclusions to a panel of board members who will use these observations to draft a final report.
The review process is expected to take up to 120 business days. The final report will be sent to both you and the health authority; if any recommendations are made, a copy of the report will be sent to the Minister of Health so that the implementation of these recommendations can be considered.
College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia
If you have a concern about the conduct of a registered physician or surgeon, contact the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia to file a complaint.
To file a complaint, a complaint form must be completed, signed, and sent to the College by mail or by fax. The College will contact and request a response from the physician involved, and may also request copies of the patient’s medical records. Based on this information, the College will assess whether the physician’s conduct meets professional standards of practice.
Successful complaints can result in disciplinary action and professional consequences to ensure that the physician involved is held accountable for their wrongdoing.
British Columbia College of Nursing Professionals
If you have a concern about the conduct of a nurse, contact the British Columbia College of Nursing Professionals. Complaints can be sent in writing by mail, fax or email.
The College will request a response from the nurse involved, and will investigate the complaint based on medical records, witness interviews, and relevant health care policies and procedures.
Successful complaints can result in disciplinary action and professional consequences. Note that the investigation process can take over 12 months to complete.
Health Professions Review Board
If you want to appeal the decision of the college of a self-governing health profession, request a review by the Health Professions Review Board.
The Review Board cannot investigate complaints, but will be able to review both the adequacy of the college’s investigation into the complaint, and the reasonableness of the disposition.
Applications for review must be made within 30 days of receiving notice of the college’s decision. To file an application, a form must be completed, signed, and sent to the Review Board by mail, by fax or by email.
Office of the Ombudsperson
If you want to dispute the decision of a public sector organization, or you feel that you have been treated unfairly, file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsperson. Complaints can be submitted through an online form, in-person, by mail or over the phone.
The Ombudsperson will listen to your complaint and may take a number of steps to address it, including an intake assessment, an early resolution process, an investigative assessment, and an investigation.
The goal of the Ombudsperson is to ensure that public sector organizations comply with standards of administrative fairness. Common outcomes of this process include a formal apology, overturning a decision, providing better reasons for a decision, and issuing a refund or reimbursement.
The first step is to try to resolve your complaint directly with the organization. If you are not satisfied with the way your complaint is dealt with through this process, make a complaint to the Ombudsperson.
Local MLA & Attorney General
If you have been denied access to justice after experiencing a wrongful death in your family, contact your local MLA and the Attorney General to let them know how your family has been affected by BC’s antiquated wrongful death laws.
You can write to the Attorney General and your local MLA, arrange a meeting to have your story heard, or do both. You can also petition your local MLA with the automated tool on our website.
Contact information for the Attorney General is as follows:
Office of the Attorney General
Room 232, Parliament Buildings
Victoria, BC V8V 1X4
PO Box 9044 Stn Prov Govt
Small Claims Court
You may file a wrongful death claim in Provincial Small Claims Court up to two years after your loved one’s death. The first step in this process is to register a Notice of Claim with the court. Once this has been done, you will have to provide a copy of the document to the defendant, who must respond to the claim. The case will then proceed through the court process.
You may claim up to $35,000 in damages in Small Claims Court. Damages that may be recoverable include out of pocket expenses that were incurred as a direct result of the death (ie. funeral expenses) and limited damages for loss of love, guidance and affection.
BC Representative for Children and Youth
The BC Representative for Children and Youth will investigate the death of all children or youth who, in the twelve months prior to their death, were receiving services from programs run by the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD). These deaths are automatically reported to the Representative.
The Representative will review and investigate the death, and will provide recommendations to help improve MCFD services and prevent future deaths under similar circumstances.
For further inquiries, the Representative can be contacted online, via email, or over the phone.
Office of the Seniors Advocate
The Office of the Seniors Advocate is responsible for monitoring seniors services in BC, and making recommendations to address systemic issues that affect seniors. If you have concerns about the seniors services that your loved one received, contact the Seniors Advocate by phone, by email, or by filling out a public input form online.
The Seniors Advocate will be able to provide information and referrals, and direct you to resources that can help address your concerns. Note that the Seniors Advocate focuses on systemic analysis, and does not investigate individual complaints directly. However, they do track complaints to identify key areas of concern and inform future work.