Alberta's funeral industry argues guest limit should be raised
As of Monday, province's pandemic restrictions will allow 20 funeral guests
The head of the Alberta Funeral Service Association calls the province's decision to increase the number of people who are allowed to attend a funeral service from 10 to 20 a small step in the right direction.
But Tyler Weber, president of the association, also argues funeral homes should be allowed to have a capacity of 25 per cent of the fire code occupancy, up to a maximum of 50 people.
"We were restricted to 100 over the summer, and what we found was that 50 was a really good number for us to work within," Weber said.
"It met the needs for Albertans to have most of their family present … [and] it was a very easy number for us to be able to control the crowd."
On Thursday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced some restrictions would be eased on Monday. In November, the guest limit was reduced from 100 to 10 for funerals.
The province will now allow up to 20 people to attend a funeral, but funeral receptions are still not allowed.
Weber said that ever since the province reduced the number of guests to 10, he's been asking the province to work with the industry to come up with a better solution.
He said he agrees there should be a restriction on the size of funeral gatherings, but argued that 10 seems random and small. He said 20 is better, but still too small in many cases.
Weber said he has reached out to the provincial health ministry via email twice — emails he shared with CBC News. But rather than a written response, he said he received phone calls.
"If we give you an increase, everybody else will be asking for an increase," said Weber, paraphrasing his conversation with a health ministry staff member.
Exemptions are extremely rare
Albertans have been told they can apply for an exemption to the COVID-related gathering restrictions, and Weber said he has on behalf of some grieving families.
But he said none of his requests have ever been answered or granted.
He said it's not clear how the province decides when to grant an exemption or not. He said each time the family's request gets rejected, it compounds their grief.
"They're outraged, and rightfully so," said Weber.
A spokesperson for the office of Alberta's chief medical officer of health issued a statement Friday stating that exemptions are "extremely rare" and "will only be granted under exceptional circumstances, in consideration of both public health and public interest considerations."
The spokesperson said the province has granted only one exemption related to a funeral service since the limits were lowered to 10 guests, and that was for slain Calgary police officer Sgt. Andrew Harnett.
"We recognize that the current restrictions impact all those grieving a loved one, and understand the desire to hold funeral services with friends and family," the spokesperson said.
Weber said he agreed Harnett's funeral warranted an exemption but believes other Albertans' funerals do, too. He believes larger gatherings can be held in a safe and controlled manner with a service professional in charge.
"We wish that there could have been more clear dialogue with the minister of health directly on this … and we're disappointed that there wasn't that leadership there to listen to the funeral professionals in the province to what they're experiencing, what the restrictions are meaning to Albertans," Weber said.