Montreal

Quebec's chief coroner could launch a public inquiry into last year's heat-related deaths

Pascale Descary said with climate change, heat-related deaths are on the rise and bound to happen again. Holding an inquiry, she said, is an effective way to find solutions.

Vulnerable people, the elderly and those suffering from mental health problems are the principal victims

The Quebec coroner's office has directly linked 42 deaths with last summer's extreme heat, but that number is expected to rise. (CBC)

Quebec's chief coroner is considering launching a public inquiry into last summer's deadly heat wave, which claimed at least 42 lives.

Pascale Descary said with climate change, heat-related deaths are on the rise and bound to happen again. Holding an inquiry, she said, is an effective way to find solutions. 

"Vulnerable people, caretakers, families, decision makers, government representatives — together we could put strategies in place and make recommendations that could get things moving."

The coroner's office has directly linked 42 deaths with the extreme heat, but that number is expected to go up, as dozens of other investigations are ongoing.

The reports into those deaths show that:

  • 35 occurred at private homes, six in health-care institutions and other facilities and one in an employer's parking lot.
  • 12 apartments had fans, two of which weren't working.
  • Only five apartments had an air conditioner, three of which weren't working.

Many of the victims are extremely vulnerable, living in difficult conditions and often isolated, Descary said.

Some live in long-term care residences or residences for vulnerable people. The reports indicate that some residences are equipped with air conditioning, but it doesn't work.

"That's not acceptable," Descary said.

Finding solutions

The majority of the victims were vulnerable people, the elderly and those suffering from mental health problems.

Shantal Allard says her brother Patrick battled mental health problems his whole life. He lived alone in an apartment in Montreal.

On July 19, 2018, Allard received a call from the police saying her brother had been found dead, 10 days after he was last seen.

He had suffered a heart attack brought on by extreme heat, and died alone in his apartment. 

"His apartment was in such a state. I don't know if in a panic he didn't try to leave, because not only was it filthy, but all the furniture was toppled over," Allard said.

Quebec's chief coroner Pascale Descary says that every year there are more and more heat-related deaths. (Radio-Canada)

Patrick Allard had had a psychotic episode two years prior to his death. Every day, he went to the pharmacy to pick up his medication, but didn't show up for the 10 days before his body was discovered. He also missed a hospital appointment.

His sister thinks he should have been followed more closely, but she doesn't blame the health-care system for his death.

"We are all responsible in our society to find solutions so that this kind of thing happens less."

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Davide Gentile, with files from Daniel Boily

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