New law coming aimed at preventing body mix-ups at funeral homes

The Nova Scotia government is expected to introduce legislation next week to change the way funeral home complaints are investigated. The minister responsible is promising more openness and transparency.

Legislation to be introduced Tuesday in response to case of Sandra Bennett, who was mistakenly cremated

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

Legislation is expected to be introduced Tuesday in Nova Scotia aimed at ensuring the shocking case of a funeral home that cremated the wrong person never happens again.

Service Nova Scotia Minister Geoff MacLellan made the commitment Friday during question period when he was asked about the Sandra Bennett case by Progressive Conservative MLA John Lohr.

In December 2017, Bennett's family was shocked to find another body in her casket prior to a planned visitation at the Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick.

After the family argued with the home, the body was removed and replaced with another — also not Bennett's. The family was subsequently informed their loved one had been mistakenly cremated.

MacLellan had promised to introduce legislation in the spring session but that didn't happen. On Friday, he vowed legislation coming next week would hold more than one person accountable in order to prevent similar mix-ups in the future.

"The facility, the owners — everyone that's responsible for having these procedures in place and followed — have to take accountability," he said. 

"This shouldn't follow one person. This is an organizational question and this can never happen again."

Service Nova Scotia Minister Geoff MacLellan had been expected to introduce legislation in response to the Sandra Bennett case last spring. (CBC)

When the Bennett case became public, MacLellan refused a request from the Funeral Association of Nova Scotia to withdraw Serenity's licence.

The province's Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors held a disciplinary hearing into the matter and revoked the licence of David Farmer, who was employed as a funeral director and embalmer at Serenity.

Bennett's family declined to participate in the hearing, saying it was unfair.

They would have been considered witnesses and required to answer questions posed by Serenity officials, but they would not have been permitted to listen to testimony from the funeral home's employees or to ask questions.

With Bennett's husband, Gary, watching the proceedings Friday in the legislature, MacLellan promised a more fair and transparent process.

"There were things that we've identified in this procedure, the public hearings, that just didn't seem right," MacLellan told the legislature.

He called the process "very unfair" adding that "public hearings will have a much different structure, much more open, transparent and give the opportunity for families to have their say."

While MacLellan referenced public hearings, there were none in this case — one of the issues that concerned the Bennett family.

About the Author

Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days, she's focused on helping consumers get the most bang for their bucks and avoid being ripped off. She invites story ideas at yvonne.colbert@cbc.ca.