Nova Scotia

Grieving husband spurs change to funeral disciplinary process

A widower whose late wife was mistakenly cremated has been able to convince the McNeil government to change the law so that grieving family members can assist disciplinary hearings when funerals go wrong.

Gary Bennett says his motivation was to spare others from the nightmare his family endured

Gary Bennett has pushed for changes to the rules that govern funeral homes after his late wife was accidentally cremated. The family only found out when they discovered a stranger's body in her casket. (Jean LaRoche/CBC )

It took until almost the last step in the law-making process to get the change he wanted, but Gary Bennett was able to convince Geoff MacLellan on Friday to amend a bill the cabinet minister introduced Sept. 18.

The amendment to Bill 39 would allow those who have laid a complaint against a funeral home to assist the disciplinary hearing and only be excluded from the inquiry until they have testified.

"It's a step in the right direction," Bennett told reporters at Province House just minutes after watching MacLellan propose the amendment and MLAs vote in support on the floor of the legislature.

"It's what I wanted all along," he said.

Bennett's late wife, Sandra, was accidentally cremated by Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick last December. The family only found out when they discovered a stranger's body in her casket prior to a planned visitation.

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

The family lodged a complaint, which triggered a hearing by the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors. But family members refused to participate after being told they could testify but not listen to other testimony or question funeral home staff.

"Now you'll be able to stay there and hear both sides," said Bennett.

MacLellan said he and officials in his department worked with Bennett to come up with wording that reflected his wishes.

"I think that given what Gary and his family have dealt with, this is about having their input on this and making sure that they shape this so this never happens to a Nova Scotia family again," he said.

The proposed law still has to pass third and final reading which could happen as early as Tuesday.


Jean Laroche


Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.