02/13/2012 04:26 EST | Updated 04/14/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Provincial Care Burials Being Done On The Cheap, Say Funeral Home Operators

EDMONTON - The Alberta government says it is reviewing its policies after funeral home operators accused it of conducting burials for those in care cheaply and disrespectfully.

The Alberta Funeral Service Association, in a letter to the Opposition Liberals, says tight-fisted government funding is forcing it to bury child wards in cheaper, adult-sized caskets rather than smaller ones.

"In no uncertain terms should an infant or small child be buried in an adult-sized casket," association president Mitch Thomson said in the letter.

"It is inappropriate to them, and insensitive to their caregivers and loved ones.

"The province is offering nothing more than a disposal service for these young and innocent people."

The association recently cut its contract with the province to bury poor people or children and severely handicapped people who are wards of the province.

Liberal critic Laurie Blakeman took the issue up with Human Services Minister Dave Hancock during question period in the legislature Monday.

Blakeman noted that besides burying children in ill-fitting caskets, the rules states funeral home operators must embalm those who die in government care, violating religious beliefs for Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus.

"How is that for putting children first?" charged Blakeman.

Hancock replied he is looking into it.

"I'm not aware of that happening (but) I would want every Albertan who is in that circumstance to be treated with dignity," he said.

"We should be able to offer people the opportunity to bury their loved ones in the (religious) manner, style and custom in which they practise. And that would be this government's vision going forward."

"I've clearly hit a nerve seeing as the government has known about this (problem) for years and done nothing," said Blakeman.

She also wanted to know why the government won't pay a small honorarium for religious leaders to conduct small ceremonies over the graves of the dead.

That will be part of negotiations for a new contract with the association, Hancock replied.

"What we're seeing here is the honourable member trying to negotiate a contract on the floor of the legislature," he said.

"What we are going to be doing is talking with funeral service providers to try and negotiate a new contract which helps families in their time of loss deal with their bereavement in dignity."