OTTAWA — Dr. Gabriel Slowey was honoured Friday at the Regional Supervising Coroner’s Office, East Region (Ottawa), for nearly 43 years of service to the Office of the Chief Coroner for Ontario.
In his capacity as a local coroner, the Chesterville resident was recognized for dedication to community and his careful investigations into many complex and challenging deaths over a long career.
Slowey has been better known locally as a popular general practitioner of medicine, operating out of an office attached to his Chesterville home until his retirement several years ago. But up until the end of March 2018 — long after he had given up his practice — the physician continued to serve as coroner.
He was involved in that role as police investigated a string of murders of elderly people living alone in the area during the 1970s, 80s and beyond: the Ottawa Valley serial killer phenomenon. He also reported as coroner after the body of Raymond Arnold Collison, victim of an alleged homicide, turned up in a ditch near Morewood five years after his disappearance from Chesterville. Slowey was similarly called upon to investigate a number of local industrial deaths over those four decades, including a man who lost his life when a trench collapsed during a road reconstruction project in Chesterville.
“The enthusiasm has left after 43 years,” the doctor explained to Nation Valley News in March of 2018, just over a year ago, as he approached his final day as a coroner.
He recounted that when he started in the role — just a few years after he and wife Mary emigrated from Ireland to Canada in 1970 — every small Ontario town had a coroner or two. Gradually, the number dwindled until Slowey became one of just three or four covering a huge swath of Eastern Ontario. “That’s great if you’re 38 instead of 75,” he observed.
Coroners are called in to investigate deaths that appear to be the result of an accident, suicide or homicide, or have otherwise occurred suddenly and unexpectedly. “It’s the coroner’s role to see that no death is overlooked or ignored, and to see they have a proper death investigation and burial,” Slowey said.
“It was a mission,” the grandfather of six added of his tenure as coroner. And, originally, it was an unpaid honorary role at that, he noted, one that “bridged the gap between the legal and medical worlds” while delivering “fairness” to the deceased, the deceased’s family and the police alike.
It’s the coroner that signs the death certificate in such cases and the warrant for an autopsy. Slowey estimated investigating thousands of deaths over the years and recalled being called out four separate times one one particular night to deal with fatalities on Highway 401.
A big supporter of Ontario’s all-physician system of coroners, in place since the 1950s, he’s less enthused by the province’s creation of non-physician “death investigators” to carry on some of the duties previously handled by coroners.
But by the same token, Slowey acknowledges that doctors may be less eager to volunteer for the job these days. “They don’t see it as their responsibility.”