Edmonton

Calgary funeral home sued over body-dragging incident shown on CBC News video

A Calgary funeral home is being sued by the brother of a man whose body was dragged along the floor of a trailer parked outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta.

Lawsuit alleges 'disrespect' of body caused 'significant emotional distress'

A funeral home employee drags a dead person in a body bag out of a refrigerated trailer at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta (OCME) in Edmonton. (Sam Martin/CBC)

A Calgary funeral home is being sued by the brother of a man whose body was dragged along the floor of a trailer parked outside the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Alberta (OCME).

According to a lawsuit filed in Edmonton last week, Raymond Pizzey of Abbotsford, B.C., is seeking $50,000 from McInnis & Holloway Funeral Home for "significant emotional distress" he says he suffered after watching a CBC News video of an incident involving his younger brother Bryce Sather's body.

CBC News recorded the video Sept. 9 after receiving a tip that the OCME had rented a refrigerated semi-trailer as temporary storage in response to an influx of bodies.

Sather's body was among 17 stored in white body bags in the trailer. Its interior was clearly visible from a public street.  

On the video, a funeral home employee grabs the foot end of the body bag with both hands and shuffles backwards, dragging the body on its back about half the trailer's length. After climbing down a ladder, the employee then repeatedly tugs on the body to slide it onto an elevated gurney as an OCME staff member watches. 

After the story appeared online, the OCME installed a ramp to the trailer and a privacy screen, and dictated that funeral homes must send at least two employees to retrieve bodies.

Warning: Some viewers may find this video disturbing

An investigation is underway after CBC News recorded this video showing a man dragging a body bag across the floor of a refrigerated truck being used as a temporary storage unit. 1:00

The lawsuit says Pizzey "first learned of the mistreatment of his brother's body by McInnis & Holloway on Sept. 27, 2019, after watching the CBC video online.

"The blatant disregard for the deceased's body caused Mr. Pizzey significant emotional distress upon reviewing the CBC recording."

Pizzey, the lawsuit states, "has begun seeing a therapist to cope with the mental distress after the traumatic incident and has been unable to sleep at night." He has also been prescribed medication.

The lawsuit also claims Pizzey lost his job after missing several days of work to deal with his mental distress.

None of the allegations in the lawsuit has been tested in court, and McInnis & Holloway has not filed a statement of defence.

Investigation launched 

Alberta Justice, which is responsible for the OCME, launched an investigation immediately after CBC News broadcast the video. But the ministry has repeatedly refused to say when the investigation will be completed and will not confirm its findings will be made public.

Alberta Justice spokesperson Dan Laville said the investigation, in general, is attempting to establish the facts surrounding the body-dragging incident "as part of how best to ensure something like this doesn't happen again." 

But CBC News has learned Alberta Justice has begun another investigation to try to catch the whistleblower who alerted CBC News to the storage of bodies in a trailer. 

The body of Bryce Sather, 25, was dragged from a refrigerated trailer last month outside the OCME. (Submitted by Raymond Pizzey)

The investigation is also trying to determine who leaked an internal email exchange that revealed an employee had warned Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Elizabeth Brooks-Lim about the propriety of storing bodies in a semi-trailer and how it would be perceived by families of the deceased. 

The internal emails show Brooks-Lim dismissed the concerns. She said the trailer was clean and families need not be told about the storage situation.

Pizzey told CBC News in October that the ministry's investigation should focus on how the indignity to his brother's body, and the other bodies, was allowed to happen. He also said the findings of that investigation must be made public.

Pizzey had also previously told CBC News his 25-year-old brother had spent long stretches in hospital as he struggled with kidney disease. 

Having had both kidneys removed, Sather had been on dialysis for the past year and was on a transplant wait list. He also had cardiovascular disease, autoimmune deficiency and blood clots in his feet that prevented him from working. 

Sather died in his sleep at a friend's house while visiting Edmonton from Calgary. Pizzey and another younger brother had hired McInnis & Holloway to retrieve the body from Edmonton and prepare it for cremation after a ceremony in Calgary.  

The lawsuit claims the funeral home failed to follow OCME guidelines that required bodies to be "treated with the utmost dignity and respect."

Jeff Hagel, McInnis & Holloway's operations manager, told CBC News in October that after seeing the CBC News video, he asked the OCME to again inspect the body for damage. 

No damage was found, but both Hagel and Brooks-Lim decided the family must be told what had happened. 

If you have any information about this story, or information for another story, please contact us in confidence at cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca

Follow us on Twitter: @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_
 

About the Author

Charles Rusnell, Jennie Russell

Investigative reporters

Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell are reporters with CBC Investigates, the award-winning investigative unit of CBC Edmonton. Their journalism in the public interest is widely credited with forcing accountability, transparency and democratic change in Alberta. Send tips in confidence to cbcinvestigates@cbc.ca. @charlesrusnell @jennierussell_