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

Santa joins kids for Christmas in the Forest in Chilliwack

Annual holiday party and fundraiser helps students at Leap For Joy Open Air Learning

Mike McCardell in town for book-signing at Coles in Chilliwack

His newest book, Shoelaces Are Hard: And Other Thoughtful Scribbles, is his 12th to date

Photos: The Contenders rock the Blue Moose Coffee Shop Friday

Valdy and Gary Fjellgaard came together as (The) Contenders to play music… Continue reading

Birds from Raptors Ridge pay a visit to Chilliwack

Up-close viewings, nature walks, and youth owl classes all part of visits this month to Chilliwack

Ask the Coach: Chilliwack Chiefs bench boss Brian Maloney talks about referees

Ask the Coach is a bi-weekly column where Brian Maloney answers questions from the fans

VIDEO: Highway overpass protest against United Nations ‘compact’ on immigration

Demonstrators say Canada will have less control over who is allowed in the country

In Canada, the term ‘nationalism’ doesn’t seem to have a bad rap. Here’s why

Data suggest that Canadians don’t see the concept of nationalism the way people do in the United States

Small quake recorded west of Vancouver Island

No injuries or tsunami warning after 5.4 rumble felt some 400 kilometres from Victoria

B.C. suspends Chinese portion of Asian forestry trade mission due to Huawei arrest

Huawei’s chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou was detained at the request of U.S. in Vancouver

Canadians spent $1.7 billion dollars online in December 2017

Online retail sales accounted for 3.4 per cent of total retail sales

2-year investigations nets $900,000 in refunds for payday loan customers

Consumer Protection BC says selling practices were ‘aggressive and deceptive’

China: Canada’s detention of Huawei exec ‘vile in nature’

Huawei is the biggest global supplier of network gear for phone and internet company

1 of 2 B.C. men wanted in connection to home invasion, explosives in custody

Cameron Cole is charged with two counts of possessing an improvised explosive device

Judge rules private landowners can’t block public access to B.C. lake

The Nicola Valley ranch’s position was that it owned Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake

Most Read