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New Newfoundland and Labrador chief medical examiner may be announced soon: province

Minister of Justice and Public Safety Andrew Parsons speaks talks about challenges and positive developments in the justice system during his speech to members of the Canadian Bar Association — Newfoundland and Labrador at the group’s mid-winter conference luncheon Friday afternoon at Marble Mountain Resort in Steady Brook.
Minister of Justice and Public Safety Andrew Parsons - Dave Kearsey

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The Department of Justice and Public Safety says it’s still trying to secure a new chief medical examiner.

In a statement to The Telegram, the department said it hopes to conclude the process in the near future, when it will announce who takes over the role.

The resources of the office have been under scrutiny in recent years.

In 2017, an external review of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) said Dr. Simon Avis had a “completely unsustainable workload.”

His administrative staff’s workload is also too much, the report said.

Avis was noted as being on call every day unless he can arrange backup, the review by Dr. Matthew Bowes, the chief medical examiner for Nova Scotia, said at the time.

The review found that the “physical infrastructure, equipment, information management system and staffing levels of OCME had important deficiencies.”

In 2015, charges against Thomas Michel were thrown out because the OCME couldn’t find the brain of the victim, Michel’s infant son, Matthew Rich.

In 2016, Justice Minister Andrew Parsons released the terms of reference for an external review of the OCME.

The Telegram, in a recent access to information request, sought information on workload, resources and autopsies current to 2018 and dating back 10 years.

About 2,140 autopsies have been completed since 2008, although not all autopsies for 2018 may be included in that number, as they may not be in the office’s database yet.

Predating the Bowes report, 2016 emails about staffing and succession planning spoke about the difficulty of recruiting forensic pathologists to ease the workload.

The province’s deputy minister of Justice and Public Safety was reminded in 2016 by Avis that at the time there were no forensic pathologists seeking employment in Canada, and efforts would have to focus on the U.S. or Europe.

He also noted new hires were unlikely to commit to a call schedule that is considered excessive.

According to the emails, at the time, the long-term plan — aiming for when recruitment efforts were achieved — called for the current chief medical officer to retire to a part-time position to provide support for leisure time, vacation, conference leave and other time off.

Three pathologists currently work in the OCME.

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