Ben Kilmer, during a trip he and Tonya took to the east coast in 2007. (submitted)

B.C. woman fighting to block coroner’s report detailing husband’s death

Fears revealing exactly how Ben Kilmer took his life will have traumatic effect on her two children

Vancouver Island’s Tonya Kilmer is outraged that the British Columbia Coroners Service is planning to release details of her husband’s death.

Kilmer, a resident of the Cowichan Valley, says she has seen the report and fears revealing exactly how Ben Kilmer took his life will have a traumatic effect on her two young children and other family members.

“When they are older and if they ask me, I would tell them the details could be very painful and are they sure they want to know,” Kilmer said.

The Chief Coroner will release the report as early as June 17, citing the public’s right to know and acceding to requests from media and what a Coroners office spokesperson called requesting agencies.

“The fact and concerns regarding your husband’s disappearance were widely shared and included requests for information,” Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe wrote in a letter to Kilmer.

“To prevent anyone from now knowing the material facts surrounding your husband’s death when numerous public appeals were made to assist in determining those facts, is problematic and not consistent with the mandate of a coroner’s investigation or the role of the Coroners Service.”

Kilmer has asked the Chief Coroner to release a redacted version of the report that reveals that 41-year-old Ben committed suicide in May 2018 at a location near the Chemainus River, seven kilometres from where his van was found, but does not detail the specifics of how he killed himself.

Kilmer has turned to friends, politicians and social media in an attempt to block the release. She’s asking people to send an email to the chief coroner requesting that how Ben took his life not be disclosed to the public “given that the visual of how he took his life is not an image you want anyone in your family to be left with.”

Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau says she has supported Tonya Kilmer in her attempts to block the release of the full report.

“My office has advocated for Tonya and I have spoken with [Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth] but the Coroner’s Office is independent and it appears there’s nothing he can do,” Furstenau said. “Tonya has made compelling arguments that are impossible to disregard. It’s really upsetting and disappointing.

“Why should another’s person’s tragedy become fodder for someone else’s gossip?”

Kilmer says her argument for withholding sensitive details is based on extensive research she has done.

“Research has shown that a secondary traumatic event has extremely negative effects on child development and successful, resilient outcomes and that children suffer adversely from the graphic imagery,” she says.

In a November 2018 letter to the chief coroner, Kilmer stressed the need to keep the details from the public including family members.

“I highlighted that many other children, particularly those who knew and loved Ben well, would likewise be traumatized with the visual of this information.

“This could have a similar affect on us as adults and certainly has on Ben’s family and I.”

The BC Coroners office released this statement on Thursday:

“Section 69 of the Coroners Act allows the chief coroner to release all or part of a Coroner’s Report and requires that the chief coroner consider both the public interest in the report’s findings, and the personal privacy of the deceased. In this investigation, the chief coroner determined that the basic information in the Coroner’s Report was necessary to support the coroner’s findings.

“The chief coroner also found that the public interest in the disclosure outweighed the personal privacy of the deceased in this instance. This decision was made after careful consideration of the issues raised and the requirements of the legislation. The chief coroner is required to balance all interests in coming to a decision. The brief summary of findings contained in a Coroner’s Report serves to establish the facts, address speculation, and quiet the public imagination.”

Kilmer’s efforts this week have been stymied since Lapointe is out of the province and won’t be returning to the office until June 21, according to her executive administrative assistant.

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