HALIFAX — An inquiry will look into a bizarre mix-up at a Nova Scotia funeral home that saw the wrong body presented to a grieving family, who say their loved one was cremated against their wishes.
Adam Tipert of the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors said Wednesday that the agency will convene a hearing in Halifax on Feb. 7 to determine what happened at the Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick last month.
"I can confirm that our board has served notice to the respective individuals who we feel are required to participate in the hearing," he said. "We need to determine the chain of custody and just exactly what were the events that unfolded at the funeral home that day."
Relatives of Sandra Bennett say they arrived at the home on Dec. 27 for a visitation following her death a week earlier, but found the body of another woman dressed in Bennett's clothing in the casket.
They say they were presented with another body in the casket. Again, it wasn't their 65-year-old relative.
Bennett's niece, JoAnne Dominey, said the family was then told Bennett was mistakenly cremated, contravening their request for an open casket service.
Serenity Funeral Home did not respond to a request for comment.
Tipert would not reveal who would be participating in the hearing, but he said the findings could lead to changes affecting other funeral homes in the province.
Lawyer Paul Walter is representing Bennett's husband. He did not respond to a request for comment.
He has said his firm is in the process of gathering information and arranging meetings with affected family members.
Tipert said the board was notified about the matter by the funeral home. He said the board was gathering information about what discussions were held with family members and what documentation was in place.
He said the documents required for a legal cremation explicitly spell out what the wishes are for the deceased.
Tipert also said employees at the home raised concerns about the facility with the board in 2015, but the board found there wasn't enough information to proceed any further. He would not reveal what those concerns were.
Tipert said he has spoken about the case with Service Nova Scotia Minister Geoff MacLellan, whose department oversees the licensing of funeral homes, and that the findings of the inquiry will be provided to the government.
The board has the authority to suspend or revoke professional licences.
"Once we have the matter we're dealing with taken care of, it will be time to move forward and look at what safeguards and checks can be put into place to make sure that this situation will never happen again," he said.
"There was nothing about this mistake that was good, but we certainly hope that when it's over we can come out of it with some sort of positive message."
The Canadian Press