Nfld. & Labrador

U.K. man jailed 5 days in St. John's after friend's ashes mistaken for ketamine

A British man says he wants the ashes of his deceased friend returned to him, after Canada Border Services at St. John's International Airport mistakenly confiscated the ashes when he was en route to Halifax.

Russell Laight thinks deceased friend would have found humour in the ordeal

Russell Laight was detained in St. John's after Canada Border Service Agents determined that a bag of ashes of his friend was the drug ketamine. (Tracey Jonasson)

A British man says he wants the ashes of his deceased friend returned to him after Canada Border Services at St. John's International Airport mistakenly confiscated them for containing traces of ketamine, a fast-acting anaesthetic.

"I haven't had a lot of information as to what's going on with the ashes, to be honest," Russell Laight told CBC News Saturday. 

This is one of the worst things that could happen.- Russell Laight

Laight was flying from England to Halifax when his flight was diverted to Newfoundland. He was on his way to meet a friend in Nova Scotia and, together, they planned to spread the ashes of their friend Simon Darby. 

Laight said border agents first flagged the ashes as he was going through customs, and tested them for illegal substances. 

When test results came back positive for ketamine, Laight said he was held in the provincial courthouse lockup for five nights. 

Simon Darby passed away from cancer in December of 2015. Darby had requested his ashes to be spread in Atlantic Canada. (Tracey Jonasson)

"I was very, very unhappy about it," said Laight.

"Very unhappy that my friend's relatives were unhappy as well. I heard there were lots of people crying over it, lots of people upset about it."

'Treated a bit like a dog'

Laight said his time in prison was dreadful — he wasn't permitted to take his medications when needed, he had to use a toilet next to strangers and he was kept in a confined, dark space. 

"I was treated like a criminal and all privileges taken away," he said.

"It was just a shock to be honest. Being treated a bit like a dog, as a criminal, looked down upon, civil liberties taken away."

Ashes still missing

After tests in Ottawa determined the ashes did not contain ketamine, Laight was released from custody on March 7 and he proceeded to Nova Scotia as planned.

But Laight said he still doesn't know where the ashes of his friend are, or when he will get them back. 

"I really am interested to find out where they are and preferably get them here as fast as possible so we can do what my friend Simon wanted us to do in the first place: spread them over here with my buddy," he said.

Laight says he wants the ashes of his deceased friend returned to him. (Tracey Jonasson)

Simon Darby died of cancer in December 2015.

Laight said Darby loved the outdoors of Atlantic Canada, and he wanted his remains scattered there following his death. 

A tough lesson

Laight said he didn't fill out the proper paperwork, and hopes others don't find themselves in a similar situation.

"[People] really need to check on the human remains articles and what you need to cover yourself with because this is one of the worst things that could happen," he said.

Laight, right, standing with his friend Richard Croft. Laight was bringing Simon Darby's ashes to Croft in Nova Scotia where the three of them spent some time. (Tracey Jonasson)

As difficult as the ordeal has been, Laight thinks his friend would have found the whole situation quite humorous.

"I can imagine my mate Simon sitting up there shaking his finger, telling me to pull my head out my backside sometimes and check the itinerary properly," Laight said, laughing.

"Simon's a bit of a comedian, he'd just be laughing at it at the moment saying, 'Yeah you made the mistake, you learn the hard way.'"

In an email to CBC late Saturday, a media spokesman for the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary confirmed that it was not in possession of Darby's ashes, but the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit-Newfoundland and Labrador was.

The ashes are anticipated to then be returned to Canadian Border Services on Monday or Tuesday. From there, they should be returned to the owner.


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