About Fatality Inquiries

The Fatality Investigations Act is concerned with investigations related to deaths in defined circumstances. Anyone with knowledge or reason to believe that a person has died under certain circumstances, such as violence, accident or suicide, is obligated to notify a medical examiner.

Following an investigation by a medical examiner, a fatality inquiry may be recommended by the Chief Medical Examiner to the Minister of Justice, in which case an inquiry becomes mandatory. The Minister may call an inquiry if it is determined one is needed in the public interest or the interest of public safety.

Deaths that occur in health-care facilities, custody or detention centres, deaths related to employment or occupation or those that occur unexpectedly when a person is in good health, when a person is not under the care of a physician, where the cause of death is undetermined or as the result of improper or suspected negligent treatment by a person are all reportable to a medical examiner and can be the subject of an inquiry.

When the Minister orders that a fatality inquiry be held, the Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia appoints a Provincial Court Judge to conduct the inquiry and make recommendations on any of the issues identified in the Minister’s order. The Judge’s findings shall not contain any findings of misconduct.

A fatality inquiry is different from a public inquiry. Public inquiries are governed by the Public Inquiries Act. They are called by the Governor in Council whenever it is deemed expedient to look into a public matter in relation to which the legislature may make laws. Public inquiries traditionally focus on uncovering facts and can make findings of legal responsibility.

Inquiry Mandate
The Inquiry is directed to determine the circumstances under which these deaths occurred, including:

The full scope of the Inquiry is outlined in the Ministerial Order (also referred to as the terms of reference).

At the conclusion of the Inquiry, the presiding Judge will prepare a written report with findings and recommendations on the terms identified in the Ministerial Order.

Decisions and Recommendations
The Judge’s decisions and recommendations will be made public. The Fatality Investigations Act requires that the Judge file a written report with the Provincial Court and provide a copy to the provincial Minister of Justice. A copy of the final report and recommendations will be posted on the Inquiry website.

Viewing the Inquiry
Sec. 32 of the Fatality Investigations Act provides that all hearings at a fatality inquiry shall be open to the public except where the Judge is of the opinion that matters involving public security or intimate, personal matters may be disclosed and that the desirability of avoiding disclosure of the matters in the interest of any person affected or in the public interest outweighs the desirability of adhering to the principle that hearings be open to the public. In those instances, the presiding Judge may decide to hold the hearing or any part of the hearing in camera (in private). The Inquiry will also be livestreamed on the Inquiry website, except if the Judge directs otherwise, and the archived video posted online.

Participating in the Inquiry
Sec. 36 of the Fatality Investigations Act, defines the participants in a fatality inquiry to include a personal representative of the deceased and any person who applies to the Judge before or during the inquiry and is declared by the Judge to be an interested person.

Anyone seeking to participate in the Inquiry may wish to consult with a lawyer prior to completing the application form, which is available on the Inquiry website. Applications can be submitted to the Antigonish Justice Centre, 11 James St., Antigonish, NS , faxed to 902-863-7479 or by e-mail at

Apply to participate.