Currently, Ontario only investigates 'accidental' deaths directly caused by heat: advocacy groups
Several advocacy groups have urged the Ontario government to improve its current approach to tracking heat-related deaths during extreme heat events in the province.
In their written submission, the Canadian Environmental Law Association, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly, the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario, and the Low-Income Energy Network said that while climate change continues to accelerate, landlords across the province are not required to provide air-conditioning to their tenants.
The advocacy groups noticed that most affordable housing units are not equipped with air-conditioning or other active cooling mechanisms. Although more expensive buildings, such as condominiums, have air-conditioning systems, they are unlikely to serve low-income and other vulnerable populations.
Moreover, they noted that during extreme heat events, Ontario Coroner’s Office only investigates “accidental” deaths directly caused by heat, such as heat strokes, and does not examine if heat may have had a significant causal effect on “natural” deaths.
“Ontario’s approach misses most of the deaths where extreme heat is a contributing factor to the death or where extreme heat exacerbates a conditions which leads to death,” the advocacy groups wrote. “The Coroner’s Office in both Quebec and British Columbia investigate more deaths that occur during an extreme heat event, including deaths classified as ‘natural.’”
To improve the tracking of heat-related deaths in the province, the advocacy groups recommended that during an extreme heat event, a death certificate should not be issued for a death suspected to be heat-related unless it is investigated by the Coroner’s Office.
They also suggested that the definition of “heat-related death” be revised to include: (a) the localized environment or body temperature is in keeping with hyperthermia; or (b) there is no direct temperature at the time of death, but there is evidence to support a finding that heat played a significant causal effect on the death.
During an extreme heat event, they recommended that the Coroner’s Office consider significant factors in tracking heat-related deaths, such as the age of the deceased, the specific location in Ontario where the death occurred, the type of residence that the deceased lived in, and whether the residence had access to air-conditioning or another type of cooling device.
“Without these changes to heat-related death tracking in Ontario, the scope and details of this worsening public health crisis will continue to be underreported and poorly understood,” the advocacy groups wrote. “It is crucial to have accurate data to better inform policy and to protect vulnerable Ontarians from severe health impacts and death during extreme heat events.”