The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service investigates deaths of persons who die from criminal violence, by accident, by suicide, suddenly when in apparent good health, when unattended by a physician, in a correctional facility, or in any suspicious or unusual manner. Our service is also responsible for approving cremations.
The Medical Examiner Service serves the people of Nova Scotia by providing impartial, professional, compassionate and accurate medicolegal death investigation.
We serve Nova Scotians by providing compassionate service that meets the highest standards of science. We are committed to educating the next generation of forensic scientists. We collaborate with our partners in health care and health surveillance to prevent deaths.
The Medical Examiner Service is responsible for determining the cause and manner of death in circumstances that are defined in the Fatality Investigations Act, but broadly include all deaths that are violent, unexpected or unexplained. The cause of death is the underlying disease or injury responsible for death. The manner reflects the circumstances surrounding the death. If the death is due only to natural disease, then the manner is natural. If injury contributes in any way, then the death is not natural. The group of deaths that are not natural are divided into homicide, suicide, or accidental. If there is insufficient information available, the manner of death may be ruled undetermined.
From time to time, the Medical Examiner Service may need to perform an autopsy to answer important questions about a death. Although the autopsy is an important tool in medicolegal death investigation, our investigation also involves talking with the families of the deceased. A specially trained forensic nurse or paramedic performs this role.
Nova Scotians come from many cultural backgrounds and hold many beliefs. Our service makes every attempt to respect the wishes of grieving families at a very difficult time. If you have religious or cultural traditions that you would like us to know about, please let us know the first time you speak with us.
The first Medical Examiner in Nova Scotia and in Canada, Dr. William D. Finn, was appointed Medical Examiner for the City of Halifax and the Town of Dartmouth in 1895. Dr. Finn was responsible for mortuary affairs as Nova Scotia’s Medical Examiner for the Titanic and Halifax Explosion disasters.
The Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service has been both legislatively and operationally implemented. It has fully replaced the coroner's system. The enactment of provincial legislation in 1960, established the formal jurisdiction and role of the Medical Examiner. In recent years some amendments have been made to the Act. In 1989 an amendment to the Act allowed the appointment of a Chief Medical Examiner for the province (prior to this each county had its own Chief Medical Examiner). An amendment in 1992 required that the Chief Medical Examiner for Nova Scotia must be a duly qualified medical practitioner who has special training in pathology, who is eligible for registration in the Medical Register of the Province of Nova Scotia as a pathologist and who meets any other additional requirements prescribed by the regulations.
In 1996, the Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. John Butt, recognized that efficient medicolegal death investigation requires the involvement of medicolegal death investigators. At that time two part-time Medicolegal death investigators joined the team. They were registered nurses. In 1999 the hiring of two full-time coordinators of investigation was an important step inprofessionalizing the service. This satisfied the demand from the public for efficient and accurate investigations.
Dr Matt Bowes, the current Chief Medical Examiner, recognized in 2006 that Nova Scotians would be better served by a new facility. The result of an exhaustive design process is a building that takes advantage of modern technology in the morgue and associated spaces, and modern building design that better serves grieving families and our staff, who have challenging and highly technical jobs to do.
It is appropriate that the building is named for Dr. William D Finn. Just as Dr. Finn was a pioneer in his time, this building is highly advanced. We anticipate that it will meet the LEED standard for its energy efficiency and the outstanding environment it provides in support of those who work here. The medical examiner service’s twin roles of investigation and surveillance are well served in this modern, secure facility.
Nova Scotia Medical Examiner Service
Dr. William D. Finn Centre for Forensic Medicine
51 Garland Avenue
Dartmouth NS B3B 0J2