Forensic pathologists are medical doctors with additional pathology training and so are experts in disease and injury that result in sudden death. Their role is to investigate the death itself so, in a way, they are the voice of the deceased.

Forensic pathologists:

  • perform autopsies when required.
  • may be appointed as coroners to investigate cases of suspicious death.
  • determine the cause of death and all other factors that relate to the body directly.
  • may attend crime scenes.
  • frequently testify in court.

A death investigation is a process whereby a coroner or forensic pathologist seeks to understand how and why a person died.

To do so, they must answer five questions when investigating a death:

  • Who (identity of the deceased)
  • When (date of death)
  • Where (location of death)
  • How (medical cause of death)
  • By what means (natural causes, accident, homicide, suicide or undetermined)

In some provinces, we have a Medical Examiners system and in others a Coroners system. Medical examiners must be medical doctors, but not necessarily forensic pathologists. Only the Chief and Deputy Medical Examiner are usually forensic pathologists. In Ontario, coroners are also doctors, but in the rest of Canada, coroners are lay coroners and come from many backgrounds.