No oversight of N.B. cemeteries

Complaints about a Saint John cemetery raise questions about provincial oversight.

Former manager of Ocean View Memorial Gardens says industry has lost its way

The former manager of Ocean View Memorial Gardens — a Saint John cemetery that has drawn harsh criticism from clients over its management — says he quit in 2009 because he didn't like the way people were being treated there.

John McKellar says the entire industry has lost its way, and that there appears to be no accountability.

"We've lost the focus of the families — relating to their financial needs, their burdens, and their concerns," said McKellar, who has worked on and off in the industry since the early 1990s.

Some people who have loved ones buried at Ocean View on the city's east side have concerns about maintenance, flowers being thrown out, and grave markers being damaged by equipment. The cemetery counters that it follows its own rules and regulations and that any complaints will be dealt with accordingly.

The current manager declined to comment about McKellar's departure.

McKellar contends there should be an industry watchdog and that the provincial government should step in.

As it stands, individual cemeteries set their own rules and regulations.

New Brunswick does have a Cemetery Companies Act, but it deals with public health issues, such as where bodies can be buried and what they can be buried in.

The Department of Justice's consumer affairs department deals with the handling of funds paid to funeral homes for pre-arranged funerals, but nothing else.

And the provincial ombudsman says it would redirect any complaints about the cemetery back to the cemetery's management.

There's also an Association of New Brunswick Cemeteries, but it's an advocacy group, not a regulatory body.

Mary Hanson, whose 13-year-old daughter Britney is buried at Ocean View, has clashed with the cemetery staff over flowers being thrown away and general maintenance issues.

She said there should be a provincial watchdog where people could take complaints. "There should be somebody that oversees all of this. There should be somebody you can go to when you have problems like this."

Tony Buckley, who says he's the cemetery manager and is listed as company president in the corporate affairs registry, has said that Ocean View is following its regulations. He said staff usually give clients a "brief explanation" of the rules and may also provide them with a written copy.

If clients have a complaint, Buckley said they should fill out a customer request form.

Hanson said she was never told about the form.

She said she feels her only option is to take the cemetery to court, but she can't afford that as she's still paying off about $10,000 in funeral expenses.