Toronto gets new forensic testing complex, complete with autopsy suite, firing range

July 23, 2013

National Post - July 11, 2013

Crime fans familiar with CSI methods can get a glimpse of the real thing with the opening of a new forensic testing complex in Toronto. The new facility brings together experts in disease, death and scientific investigation under one roof to solve real-life crimes. The Ontario Forensic Pathology Service, the Office of the Chief Coroner and the Centre of Forensic Services will be moving into the new Forensic Services and Coroner’s Complex on Morton Shulman Avenue in September. On Thursday, the National Post’s Jessica Vitullo toured the five-storey, 50,000 square metre building.

The autopsy suite - The autopsy suite has 10 tables so it can accommodate 10 autopsies at one time. There is an observation deck above some of the tables, allowing investigators and police officers to watch and listen to what’s happening without crowding doctors. Dr. Toby Rose, deputy chief forensic pathologist, said there was also lots of natural light coming in through the windows, which doesn’t exist in the present facility. The floor plan is open concept with lots of room for experts to move around. There are two separate autopsy rooms dedicated for homicide investigations.

The firing range - The complex has an underground floor with a firing range, a facility that’s important when trying to determine the distance between a shooter and his victim, said David Riley, project manager at the Centre of Forensic Sciences.

Isolation ward - The third level of the building has a containment room complete with steel tables and sinks. The room is to accommodate forensic pathologists doing autopsies in cases of outbreaks of infectious diseases. Those doing the examinations will be dressed in special suits to protect themselves, said Melanie Fraser, director of operational services for the Ontario Forensic Pathology Service. The old facility did not have a containment room which proved difficult during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Vehicle bay - The underground floor has six garages called examination bays where vehicles involved in an investigation can be looked at. “We examine the vehicles for things like trace evidence, glass, and also looking for biological evidence,” said Mr. Riley. “Maybe there’s DNA that’s on the vehicle.” The examination bays have fluorescent lights on the sides of the wall to make it easier for investigators to gather evidence. One of the bays has a lift that helps experts examine the under carriage of the vehicle, said Mr. Riley.

Family rooms - The complex provides three family rooms where families can identify a body via a video monitor, said Dr. Dan Cass, interim chief coroner for Ontario. For families who want to see a body up close, there are two family rooms with a window looking into an examination room. Families can take a closer look at the body that way, he said. Neither safety nor evidence is compromised during both viewing processes.

Cost - The building comes with a price tag of $1-billion being spent over 30 years, said Mr. Riley. The cost to construct the building was roughly half of that, he said. The government of Ontario built the facility with the help of Carillion Canada. The government will pay Carillion a yearly fee for the next three decades to maintain the facility. At the end of the 30 years, Mr. Riley said the government will fully own the complex and it will be the government’s responsibility to maintain. “Our old building is 35 years old and it looks it,” said Dr. Rose. “We don’t have enough plugs for computers because computers didn’t exist when it was built.”

Viewing - The public will have a chance to see the facility as the building will be open for tours on Sunday, July 21 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.