Province establishing mobile team to perform some autopsies in the city

The province will provide resources to allow some medicolegal autopsies to again take place in the city.

Administrator Malcolm Mercer to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board on Tuesday, outlining that the staff of the Provincial Forensic Pathology Unit in Toronto will form a mobile team to come conduct some autopsies at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.

Earlier this year, hospital officials a lack of resources would force them to stop performing forensic autopsies. Those services stopped at the end of June.

Mercer feels having non-complex autopsies performed here will save local police resources and spare families the wait.

“It [is also] necessary for a [Thunder Bay Police] officer to accompany the body and that can add some real expense,” Mercer said. “As you heard from [Deputy Chief Ryan Hughes] to send officers who may have to spend days in Toronto, if I can say it bluntly, hanging around waiting for the autopsy to happen. [From] what I understand, Toronto Police Service has been assisting in providing resources so that the number of travels from Thunder Bay by police officers is limited, but that's still a cost.”

The mobile team will come to Thunder Bay for one week a month, according to a letter from Ontario Chief Coroner Dirk Huyer and Chief Forensic Pathologist Michael S. Pollanen, which was provided to the board.

All complex autopsies, including homicide, criminally suspicious, Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and pediatric cases will continue to go to the provincial pathology unit in Toronto.

“It's actually a really good start for us having [the team] come up [here] once a month for an extended period of time,” said Thunder Bay Police Chief Darcy Fleury. “[This is all about] making sure that the families are getting their loved ones back in a timely manner, and that our investigation processes are moving forward as fast as [possible.”

The Office of the Independent Police Review Director's Broken Trust report in 2018 had identified having a forensic pathology unit in Thunder Bay as one of its recommendations.

In 2022, police held the scenes of 16 deaths where autopsies were performed in Toronto where 14 of those had an officer accompany the body, which came with a cost of more than $300,000.

Kevin Jeffrey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,