Inquiry launched into funeral home mix-up that saw woman mistakenly cremated

The N.S. Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has served the involved parties notice of the inquiry, which will be held next month.

N.S. Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors plans to hold inquiry next month

The Berwick Funeral Chapel, operated by Serenity Funeral Home, is where Sandra Bennett's funeral took place. (CBC)

An inquiry into body switching and an accidental cremation at Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick, N.S., will be held next month.

Adam Tipert, the chair of the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, told CBC News in a phone interview from Ottawa on Tuesday that the board has served the relevant parties with notice of the inquiry.

"Individuals will have an opportunity to speak directly to the board and explain their understanding of the situation" and then answer board questions, he said.

CBC News reported last week that the family of 65-year-old Sandra Bennett was shocked to discover someone else was laid out at her visitation on Dec. 27.

After some discussion, that body was removed and another was brought in. The second one was also not Bennett's, but it was wearing her clothes.

Sandra Bennett, 65, died on Dec. 20, 2017, after a lengthy illness. (Bennett family)

The final straw was when funeral home staff eventually informed the family that Bennett had been cremated by mistake.

Tipert wouldn't comment on whether Bennett's family and other affected families will be present during the inquiry.

Tipert said he's been in contact with Service Nova Scotia Minister Geoff MacLellan, whose department licenses funeral homes, about whether Serenity's operations should be shut down pending the inquiry outcome.

Tipert would not say whether the board has made a recommendation to the minister, but said it's up to MacLellan to make that decision.

Alleged improper actions

Last week, CBC News received a letter sent to the board signed by four former Serenity employees, that alleged improper actions by some funeral home employees.

Some of those who signed the document said they received an acknowledgment of their concerns, but no word on what, if anything, was done as a result.

Tipert said the board did follow up on allegations and there was a investigation on behalf of the board but it found there was insufficient information to warrant further action.

MacLellan said a provincial inspector was sent to the funeral home at that time.

"We have done the same to support this inquiry," he said.

Inquiry may make more recommendations

Tipert refused to comment on whether there have been other complaints about Serenity's operations.

Some funeral homes use tags or wristbands to confirm the identity of deceased individuals.

Tipert suggests all funeral homes in the province consider adopting some type of process to identify bodies so mix-ups don't happen.

He said further recommendations may be made after the inquiry is finished "to make sure this will never happen again."

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.