Haida Gwaii's unlicensed 'undertaker' gets official redress

The man who has been providing unlicensed, voluntary funeral services for communities on Haida Gwaii received redress on Thursday for the comments Justice Minister Suzanne Anton made about him in 2015.

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said she misspoke about George Westwood in the Legislature in 2015

George Westwood volunteers his funeral services on Haida Gwaii, B.C. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The man providing unlicensed volunteer funeral services for residents on Haida Gwaii received something of an apology from Justice Minister Suzanne Anton in the the B.C. Legislature on Thursday. 

George Westwood's services were halted by a Consumer Protections B.C warning in Dec. 2014. Anton defended the Consumer Protections B.C intervention while speaking in the Legislature in 2015, saying Westwood was "not suitable" to provide the services.

Westwood had been assisting residents on the remote islands on B.C.'s north coast when it came to dealing with deceased loved ones since 1991.

He didn't charge for his services, and said his role ranged from guiding people through the bureaucratic process to arranging for caskets to be built, meeting with gravediggers and helping with the funeral services.

A few weeks after her initial remarks about Westwood, Anton changed course, and said in the Legislature that he could resume helping Haida Gwaii families with their funeral services as a volunteer.

"Helping families is a helpful thing and a good thing for him to do," Anton said at the time.

But Anton went a step further on Thursday, introducing Westwood in the Legislature and calling him a "longtime notable resident of Haida Gwaii."

"I misspoke at the time in describing him. What I would like to say now is that Mr. Westwood is esteemed and admired citizen of Haida Gwaii. I am very happy to have met him."

Anton went on to acknowledge the difficulty small, remote communities have when dealing with funeral services.

'I'm very happy'

Westwood, who flew to Victoria for the occasion, said he was quite pleased with Anton's remarks.

"I'm very happy that a renowned politician could actually backtrack and apologize for some of the unkind things she said earlier in the House," he said.

"I don't really require the apology. What I require is better services after death for remote areas," Westwood said.

"What I'm hoping ... is that other people will not be afraid to go ahead and do [what I'm doing] for fear that they too will be chastised for doing it."

Westwood said he has meeting planned with officials to try to improve the after-death services in small communities.

"What I would like from the provincial government is somewhere in the near future, a provincially controlled non-profit, non-embalming funeral commissioner for remote areas so there is decent, civilized, economic after-death service for people living there," he said.

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