The possible use of corpses from executed Chinese prisoners for a public display as part of an exhibition in Ontario merits a criminal and coroner's investigation, a human-rights group is asserting.
The group, Choose Humanity, argues Premier Exhibitions may be breaking the law with its "Bodies Revealed" display in Niagara Falls, Ont.
"We're concerned that the presenter of these exhibitions does not have any form of consent whatsoever to show these bodies," said Joel Chipkar, spokesman for Choose Humanity.
"If these bodies do not have consent to be shown, these bodies are being shown illegally in Canada."
On display are whole cadavers and body parts — as well as fetuses shown in a mother's uterus — that have been put through a process known as plastination to preserve the specimens indefinitely. The bodies are posed in various positions, some skinless or with muscles flayed.
Proponents argue the displays offer a fascinating and educational look at the inner workings of the human body.
Remains 'originally received' from Chinese police
Premier Exhibitions, based in Atlanta, Ga., did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the complaint.
However, a disclaimer on its website confirms the remains are from Chinese citizens or residents "originally received" by Chinese police.
"The Chinese Bureau of Police may receive bodies from Chinese prisons. Premier cannot independently verify that the human remains you are viewing are not those of persons who were incarcerated in Chinese prisons," the disclaimer states.
"Premier relies solely on the representations of its Chinese partners and cannot independently verify that they do not belong to persons executed while incarcerated in Chinese prisons."
Choose Humanity — which aims to create awareness of human rights abuses in China, including those against members of the Falun Gong organization — says the disclaimer simply isn't enough.
Chipkar said donating organs tends to be culturally taboo in China and it is therefore highly unlikely the Chinese would have given consent to donate their bodies. The corpses on display may have come from executed prisoners of conscience, he said.
Calls for investigation
In a written complaint to Ontario's chief coroner obtained by The Canadian Press, the group's lawyer Joel Etienne calls for a investigation into the circumstances of the deaths.
"We have members of my clients' organization who have relatives who were detained, tortured and murdered in China," the letter states.
"Through DNA, we would be able to ascertain whether or not some of these victims are direct relatives of some of my clients."
Dirk Huyer, chief coroner for Ontario, said Friday that he had no authority under provincial law to pursue the matter as requested because the deaths occurred outside the province.
"We don't have authority to take possession of the bodies and therefore we can't conduct any autopsies either," Huyer said.
Etienne said in an interview there might also be a Criminal Code offence related to causing an indignity to a body and he wanted authorities to stop the bodies from leaving Canada.
Police in Niagara Falls said they were unaware of the situation.
Several other jurisdictions around the world have barred such displays given the uncertainty around the provenance of the bodies. Hawaii and France did so in 2009, while Israel closed down such an exhibition in 2012.
A similar exhibition, by Germany-based Body Worlds, has held several exhibits over the past nine years in Canadian cities, including Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. However, it maintains it relies on the "generosity of body donors" who have requested to be included in the displays.