Ac­ci­den­tal cre­ma­tion brings forth call for change

Wid­ower ‘shocked’ but ‘happy’ with bill propos­ing steeper fines for fu­neral home er­rors


Gary Ben­nett hopes no one else has to go through what he went through last De­cem­ber when his de­ceased wife was ac­ci­den­tally cre­mated.

Ben­nett was present at the fall ses­sion of the Nova Sco­tia Leg­is­la­ture when Kings North MLA John Lohr, a can­di­date for the pro­vin­cial Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship, raised a ques­tion to Ser­vice Nova Sco­tia Min­is­ter Ge­off MacLel­lan on how the party would ad­dress the mis­take, and pre­vent fu­ture fu­neral home er­rors.

MacLel­lan con­firmed leg­is­la­tion would be pre­sented the fol­low­ing week and, on Sept. 18, out­lined amend­ments to the Em­balmers and Fu­neral Di­rec­tors Act and the Ceme­tery and Fu­neral Ser­vices Act propos­ing in­creased fines and more com­plaint process trans­parency among its changes.

“I was shocked — I didn’t think some­thing like that would hap­pen so quick. But I’m happy some­thing’s be­ing done,” says Ben­nett.

The ordeal be­gan when Ben­nett was pre­sented with two bod­ies in De­cem­ber 2017 be­fore the fu­neral of his wife, San­dra. Nei­ther of them was his wife, and he later learned she had been mis­tak­enly cre­mated by the Ber­wick Fu­neral Chapel.

Ben­nett ap­proached Lohr at his con­stituency of­fice this sum­mer in Kentville with sev­eral con­cerns, chief among them be­ing that Ben­nett and his lawyers were not al­lowed to cros­sex­am­ine the fu­neral home, nor hear its tes­ti­mony, as part of the com­plaint they launched. Ben­nett says this is what led to his de­ci­sion to halt pro­ceed­ings.

“You travel all the way to Hal­i­fax, take your lawyer, go into a pri­vate meet­ing, they ask you a few ques­tions, and you’re es­corted out. There’s no sense go­ing to a meet­ing like that — it’s one-sided,” says Ben­nett.

Lohr says the is­sue was ad­dressed dur­ing the house’s spring ses­sion, but no leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced. He says this is why he raised the ques­tion Sept. 14, and was not aware Lib­er­als would in­tro­duce the leg­is­la­tion four days later.

On Sept. 14, Lohr said he hoped the bill in­cluded a stan­dard­ized code of op­er­a­tions for fu­neral homes, along with the ap­peal process amended to al­low greater in­volve­ment of the com­plainant.

“There’s a sense that there needs to be a [fairer] op­por­tu­nity where both sides get to hear the other side. There needs to be a higher level of par­tic­i­pa­tion of the com­plainant,” says Lohr.

The bill ap­pears to ad­dress these con­cerns — seek­ing an in­crease in in­frac­tion fines from $500 to up to $25,000 for in­di­vid­u­als, and $300,000 for busi­nesses — and in­cludes mak­ing hear­ing sched­ules, de­ci­sions, con­vic­tions, fines and penal­ties for li­censees pub­lic.

It also in­cludes in­creas­ing the num­ber of non-in­dus­try mem­bers on the Nova Sco­tia Board of Reg­is­tra­tion of Em­balmers and Fu­neral Di­rec­tors by two.

“We want to make sure we get this [bill] right,” says MacLel­lan.

“It was tragic, it was wrong, and it was un­ac­cept­able. To see what the fam­ily went through, los­ing a loved one, which is a very dif­fi­cult pe­riod — to have this hap­pen... is un­ac­cept­able.”

Ben­nett says the ordeal con­tin­ues to feel “mind-bog­gling” but that things are be­gin­ning to set­tle for his fam­ily. He says he is still dis­ap­pointed he was not able to set­tle the mat­ter through the ap­peal process him­self, and hopes other fam­i­lies are al­lowed a larger role than he was.

“I just hope when some­one’s loved one passes away, they pay at­ten­tion to the pa­per­work that’s in­volved.”

The bill also pro­poses fu­neral homes and cre­ma­to­ri­ums have hu­man re­mains la­belled at all times while in their cus­tody.

Nei­ther the Ber­wick Fu­neral Chapel nor the Nova Sco­tia Board of Reg­is­tra­tion of Em­balmers and Fu­neral Di­rec­tors re­sponded to re­quest for com­ment.


The Ber­wick Fu­neral Chapel ac­ci­den­tally cre­mated the body of San­dra Ben­nett in De­cem­ber 2017 and pre­sented her hus­band, Gary, with two other bod­ies that were not her be­fore he found out the news. Gary Ben­nett was present as new leg­is­la­tion was in­tro­duced Sept. 18 at the Nova Sco­tia House of Assem­bly by min­is­ter Ge­off MacLel­lan to en­sure such mis­takes never hap­pen again.

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