Friends and family visit Olds’ Graysen Cameron in hospital. Cameron was one of the 14 injured in a bus crash on Friday in Saskatchewan. The Humboldt Broncos team was travelling for a playoff game when the crash took place. Photo via Twitter/Levi Mitchell.

CP Explains: How bodies are identified by the authorities

The Canadian Press takes a look at how the identification process generally unfolds when someone is found dead

Authorities in Saskatchewan apologized Monday for an identity mix-up in which a hockey player was identified as among the 15 killed in last week’s bus crash — only to discover it was, in fact, his teammate that was killed.

Related: Body in Humboldt Broncos bus crash misidentified: justice ministry

Here’s a look at how the identification process generally unfolds when someone is found dead:

How identification happens in straightforward cases:

The mainstay of the identification effort for most medical examiners and coroners in Canada is the visual identification. For example, someone is found dead in an apartment. The superintendent or a relative who found the person or otherwise knows the person then positively identifies the deceased. If what they say checks out with other identifying information — a passport or driver’s licence — that’s probably going to be sufficient.

“When you’re thinking about visual identification, that is often in circumstances where there are a number of other pieces of information that suggest that’s who the person is,” said Dr. Dirk Huyer, chief coroner in Ontario.

What if a body is decomposed or badly disfigured?

While fingerprints, X-rays, and characteristic tattoos or other markings on a body may help in the identification process, coroners will usually reach for dental records. That means taking the body to the local morgue, having a forensic dentist examine the teeth of the dead person, then comparing them with the person’s dental records.

“That’s often the easiest and quickest way to identify a body,” said Dr. Matt Bowes, chief medical examiner for Nova Scotia.

Another option is using genetic matching. The problem is that it can take time to get the DNA comparisons done.

“You want to give information to families quickly and you want to figure things out as quickly as you can, so it’s always at the moment thinking what is the best approach to take,” Huyer said.

Related: Dyed hair a factor in Humboldt bus crash victim mix-up

What difficulties did the Saskatchewan coroner face in the bus crash?

The situation in Saskatchewan was complex for several reasons. One of them was the large number of victims who had suffered terrible injuries that rendered them less recognizable. Further compounding the problem was that the teammates had dyed their hair blond for the playoffs, were of similar age and similar build.

“In addition to that, the coroner is probably under a tremendous amount of pressure to clear the scene for obvious reasons of compassion,” Bowes said. “Nobody likes to stand in the way of reuniting of the family and the loved one. This is certainly the kind of thing where an error could occur.”

Given the frailties inherent in any identification process, errors can and do occur, Bowes said.

“They’re famous in our community,” he said. “They’re one of the things we’re very mindful of.”

In one case, a man in Toronto was hit by a commuter train in 2004 and a visual identification by his sister was done. The family was at the funeral, when the man himself arrived at the sister’s house to say he wasn’t dead. “That would be one of the most extraordinary examples in Canadian history,” Bouwer said.

What should be done when ID mistakes do happen.

The important thing is to be very upfront and honest about what happened, Bowes said. He gave authorities in Saskatchewan credit for doing just that.

“We all have to remember these things do happen,” Bowes said. “Most people are tremendously forgiving when you’re humble and forthcoming with your error.”

Bowes also suggested a staff meeting to re-examine standard operating procedures to see what might have been done differently to prevent a recurrence of the mix-up. Even the best written procedures can be rewritten, he said.

Fortunately, the situation in Saskatchewan is an extraordinarily rare circumstance in Canada, Bowes said.

“A mass-fatality event with 15 dead is almost unknown in Canada. You can practically count them on the fingers of your hands. They are rare.”

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fraser Valley Bandits reveal mascot name

Berry the Bandit officially unveiled, makes first public appearance tomorrow

End ‘exploitative’ parking fees at Lower Mainland hospitals, group says

HospitalPayParking.ca is criticizing a new contract between health authorities and Impark

UFV celebrates 2019 HOF class

Third annual Cascades Hall of Fame event occurs on Friday night

Your daily commute and weather forecast: Jan. 22, 2019

A bit of rain over the next couple days, then into another sunny stretch. Plenty of congestion today.

Abbotsford Hospice Society’s Butterfly Ball receives $15,000 donation

Funds for event in April come from group of advisors with The Co-operators

New Canada Food Guide nixes portion sizes, promotes plant-based proteins

Guide no longer lists milk and dairy products as a distinct food group

Man accused of threatening to kill ‘as many girls as I see’

Christopher W. Cleary wrote he was angry because he’d never had a girlfriend and wanted to ‘make it right’ with a mass shooting

Cannabis-carrying border crossers could be hit with fines under coming system

Penalties are slated to be in place some time next year

Canadian talent abound on newly revamped Vancouver Whitecaps squad

Lineup is full of new faces after the organization parted ways with 18 players over the off-season

B.C. Green leader calls for long-term legislature financial audit

Andrew Weaver says trust in clerk and sergeant at arms is gone

No charges in fatal police Taser incident in Chilliwack

RCMP watchdog concludes no evidence of excessive or disproportionate force was used by officers

Here’s what the B.C. legislature officers are accused of buying with taxpayers’ money

Personal trips, purchases, alcohol and more laid out in 76-page report by Plecas

Alberta youth charged over theft of $17,000 in snow equipment at B.C. ski resort

Alberta RCMP recovered $17,000 in skis/snowboards believed stolen from Fernie Alpine Resort Saturday

China demands U.S. drop Huawei extradition request with Canada

Hua said China demands that the U.S. withdraw the arrest warrant against Meng Wanzhou

Most Read