Two new medical examiners and improved facilities should help the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner meet Alberta's growing autopsy caseload, Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said Wednesday.
The caseload for autopsies is on the rise because of an increasing population and opioid overdose deaths, Ganley said.
"We also anticipate the extra resources will allow examinations to be completed in less time, which will mean results and other relevant information can be made available sooner," Ganley told a news conference in Edmonton.
Funding for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is increasing by $1 million per year. Of that, $790,000 will pay for two more medical examiners for the province.
A new research officer will manage data and policy issues and share information with stakeholders such as Alberta Health.
The government also said that a $20.6-million, multi-year renovation project to the medical examiner's office in Edmonton has been completed.
An improved toxicology lab will enable staff to handle more tests related to the surge in deaths from opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.
Until recently, the medical examiner's office has been plagued with high staff turnover, instability, a lawsuit, and criticism about lengthy delays and poor communications.
In December, Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim was named chief medical examiner, after serving in the position for five months following the departure of Dr. Jeffery Gofton who quit for personal reasons after less than 18 months on the job.
Gofton replaced Dr. Anny Sauvageau, who has sued Alberta Justice for more than $5 million, alleging her contract was not renewed after she stood up to political interference in the operation of the medical examiner's office.
The office investigates an average of 20,000 deaths each year, and performs 4,000 autopsies.
Brooks-Lim said that with additional medical examiners, the office will be able to contribute to police investigations more quickly and not delay the court system.
"My office is very acutely aware of the Supreme Court [of Canada] Jordan decision and we are prioritizing cases that may go to trial such as homicides and other high profile cases," she said.
The Jordan ruling in 2016 upholds an accused person's charter right to a speedy trial, and sets an 18 month deadline.
Ganley said she doesn't know if having more staff at the time would have improved how Serenity's case was dealt with, but she says having more resources should prevent long delays in future.
"This will certainly help in the sense that these Albertans who are coming forward to us after the death of a family member, who are in the worst time of their life. We'll be better able to serve those people," Ganley said