Edmonton·Exclusive

Alberta chief medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim resigns

Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim, Alberta’s chief medical examiner, has resigned, the third departure from that position in five years.

Third chief medical examiner in five years to leave problem-plagued office

Internal emails obtained by CBC News showed Alberta chief medical examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim brushed aside an OCME employee's concerns about storing bodies on the floor of a refrigerated trailer. (Supplied)

Alberta's chief medical examiner has resigned, the third departure from that position in five years.

In a statement released Thursday, Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim said it was a "personal decision" to leave the job and she is looking forward to the next chapter in her career. 

"I am confident that a strong transition team is in place, and that staff will continue to provide a high level of service to Albertans," she said in a statement sent to CBC News.

The statement doesn't indicate when exactly Brooks-Lim will leave, but in another statement the ministry thanked her for "affording us the time to appoint an acting chief medical examiner during the recruitment period."

In September, CBC News broadcast video that showed a body being dragged along the floor of a refrigerated semi-trailer outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta (OCME) in Edmonton. Brooks-Lim had ordered the trailer's use as temporary storage in response to a sudden influx of bodies. 

Brooks-Lim was appointed chief medical examiner in December 2016 following a string of controversies involving the troubled office.

Her predecessor, Dr. Jeffery Gofton, quit after less than 18 months on the job and returned to his native United States. Gofton assumed the post from Dr. Anny Sauvageau, who is suing Alberta Justice for more than $5 million, alleging her contract, which expired at the end of 2014, was not renewed after she stood up to political interference in the office's operation.

In a 2016 report, Alberta's Public Interest Commissioner concluded Sauvageau had been treated unfairly by Justice officials who had, in part, used complaints they knew were unsubstantiated to justify not renewing her contract. The report said records showed there was even an attempt to solicit complaints and comments about Sauvageau from both inside and outside the department.

The commissioner dismissed Sauvageau's allegations of political interference, however, saying there was insufficient evidence for a finding of wrongdoing.

When former NDP Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley appointed Brooks-Lim to the position, Ganley said it would "maintain stability in the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner." Brooks-Lim had been serving as acting chief medical examiner.

Brooks-Lim was previously deputy chief medical examiner in Edmonton, assistant chief medical examiner in Calgary and Edmonton, and a forensic pathologist and coroner in Saskatchewan. She was a forensic pathologist in England and a clinical lecturer in forensic medicine and pathology in Scotland.

The Alberta government's public salary disclosure shows Brooks-Lim received nearly $404,000 in total compensation in 2018.

Body-dragging controversy

Brooks-Lim was directly involved in a controversy in September that critics called a clear lack of respect to decedents.

CBC News revealed the OCME was storing an influx of bodies on the floor of a rented, refrigerated semi-trailer — visible from a nearby public street — as the office grappled with a shortage of storage space.

Internal emails show a staff member had previously raised concerns with Brooks-Lim about the propriety of storing bodies in a trailer, saying families likely would not find the practice acceptable.

In response, Brooks-Lim told the employee: "The floor is clean, the bodies will be in body bags and the families do not need to be informed of the storage procedures."

CBC News recorded video of a funeral home attendant dragging one of the bodies, sheathed in a white body bag, along the floor of the trailer. 

In September, CBC News recorded video showing a funeral home employee dragging a body along the floor of a refrigerated semi-trailer rented by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Edmonton. (Sam Martin/CBC)

After the story aired, Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer directed his ministry to begin an internal investigation. But the ministry refuses to say when the investigation would be completed or if it would be publicly released.

CBC News subsequently learned the Alberta Justice investigation into the incident was also trying to determine who had leaked that email exchange.

The family of the person in the body bag learned about the dragging incident from the funeral home manager and Brooks-Lim, who both personally apologized.

Raymond Pizzey, the brother of the deceased man, Bryce Sather, said the family was distraught over his body's mistreatment. Pizzey is now suing the funeral home for significant emotional distress.

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner is entangled in yet another scandal after a six-month investigation by CBC's The Fifth Estate revealed senior officials at Alberta Justice were aware of a report that shook the foundations of several murder charges and cast into doubt numerous findings of medical examiner Dr. Evan Matshes in Calgary a decade ago.

Matshes declined to speak with The Fifth Estate but in a statement he said he stands by his work.

"I have devoted my professional life to making sure that the criminal justice system holds those guilty responsible for their crimes and does not prosecute the innocent," Matshes wrote.

If you have information about this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca.

About the Author

Jennie Russell, Charles Rusnell

Investigative reporters

Charles Rusnell and Jennie Russell are reporters with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_