Hamilton

Infant's remains stuffed in cardboard box; Niagara funeral company loses licence

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details. A Niagara-area company has lost its bid to keep its licence to transfer corpses after a contractor stuffed an infant's remains into a cardboard box.

WARNING: This story contains disturbing details

An Ontario Division court has upheld the loss of a licence for an Ontario company after it transported the remains of an infant in a cardboard box. (Shutterstock)

A Niagara-area company has lost its bid to keep its licence to transfer corpses after a contractor stuffed an infant's remains into a cardboard box.

In its decision, a Divisional Court panel found a tribunal had made no errors in ordering the licence revocation of Niagara Funeral Alternatives based in Ridgeway, Ont., near Fort Erie, which was operated by the unlicensed Patrick O'Charchin — ostensibly under his geriatric father, Jerome O'Charchin, who was an authorized funeral director.

"There was ample evidence before the tribunal to make the findings it made," the court said in its ruling this week.

"Regardless of how the hospital presented the human remains, Niagara Funeral chose the disgraceful manner of transporting them."

Court and tribunal documents show the case arose two years ago when Patrick O'Charchin retained a licensed funeral director, Paul Scrannage, to transport an infant's remains from a Hamilton-area hospital morgue to a nearby crematorium.

O'Charchin gave Scrannage a cardboard box with various funeral-related supplies and told him to use the box to pick up the remains.

Video evidence

At a hearing that revoked Scrannage's licence last year, witnesses testified the remains were in an adult-sized body bag along with autopsied brain tissue in a plastic pail on a hallway gurney. Video evidence showed Scrannage stuffed the body bag into the cardboard box, which was too small, using black tape to keep the lid closed. He placed the box in his vehicle, retrieved the pail, and delivered them to horrified crematorium staff.

"They testified that they had never encountered human remains delivered for cremation in a repurposed cardboard box or in two separate containers," according to records from the Licence Appeal Tribunal.

"They were shocked at the manner in which the remains were delivered, which they characterized as undignified and disrespectful."

Scrannage's tribunal hearing also heard from witnesses that he had handled other remains roughly, apparently brushing off one complaint by saying, "They don't feel it."

He denied the accusation and the tribunal concluded it had not been proven.

Witnesses also testified that he removed pacemakers or defibrillators without wearing protective equipment and in inappropriate settings. Instead of using a single-use scalpel for the incision, carefully removing the device and stitching up the gash, witnesses said he used a utility knife he carried in his pocket.

 Scrannage testified it was Patrick O'Charchin who supplied him with a kit that included a utility knife.

Ultimately, the tribunal endorsed a proposal from the Registrar, Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act to revoke Scrannage's licence.

"Scrannage transferred the remains of an infant in a manner that was disrespectful, undignified and fell below the standards expected in the industry," the tribunal concluded.

Other problems

Complaints about Scrannage's handling of the infant remains led to the investigation of Niagara Funeral Alternatives that also turned up other problems related to contracts and pricing, as well as allegations that it was the unlicensed Patrick O'Charchin who actually ran the business, not his father.

The tribunal concluded the allegations were valid. It found the younger O'Charchin had instructed Scrannage to use the cardboard box to pick up the infant remains as a cost-saving measure.

Revoking Niagara Funeral Alternatives' transport licence was appropriate, the tribunal found.

On appeal to Divisional Court, the company tried to blame the hospital for the infant transfer problem, and denied it was the son who managed the business. It also argued the licence revocation penalty was too severe. The appellate court dismissed the appeal.