The union representing staff in pathology at Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is calling on the Ontario government to reconsider a recent decision to divert pathology cases from Niagara to Toronto, by-passing Hamilton. 

The move to shuttle forensic autopsies from Niagara to Toronto, is the latest in a series of controversial and questionable decisions tied to the July 2020 closure of forensic pathology services at HHS.

“It makes no sense to drive bodies down the often congested QEW, from Niagara to Toronto when there is capable professional staff available to do the autopsy work right here in our community. It is clear HHS wants to continue to provide this valuable service,” says Dave Murphy the president of CUPE 7800.

Consolidating Hamilton/Niagara forensic autopsies at the coroner’s Toronto site has drawn considerable opposition. Many diverse groups weighed-in on the impracticality of the decision. Concerns include, longer turnaround times for autopsies, delays in police investigations, officers needing to travel to Toronto in homicides and in the sudden deaths of young children.

“These delays will compound the stress and grief of families waiting to find out how their loved one died,” says Murphy.

The closure of the unit also means that McMaster University will be the only medical school in Ontario without a local training facility for forensic pathology. Also, we now know that the Hamilton forensic office closure was done without permission. “Why the Solicitor General hasn’t acted on this is worrisome,” says Murphy.

The consolidation of forensic pathology services in Toronto contradicts the strategic plan for Ontario’s Death Investigation System, which calls for more cases being managed locally, says Michael Hurley, president of the Ontario Council of Hospital Unions/CUPE.

The Hamilton hospital pathology unit with three full-time forensic pathologists and a team of autopsy technicians, currently does death investigations, including homicides, pediatric deaths and death by overdose.

“The expertise is available locally at HHS to do this work. Driving Niagara forensic cases across the highway to Toronto is costly and will lead to longer wait times for results. The provincial government should reconsider this decision,” says Hurley.