HALIFAX — The recent mix-up of bodies at a Nova Scotia funeral home is unacceptable and should never happen again, a provincial cabinet minister said Thursday.
Service Nova Scotia Minister Geoff MacLellan said the tragic mistake is being investigated by the Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, which regulates funeral homes and includes one of his staff members.
"This can't happen again," MacLellan, whose department issues licences for funeral homes, said following a cabinet meeting.
"As a government, and a regulatory body for this board, we've got to instill the confidence of Nova Scotians that we're handling these matters properly."
The family of Sandra Bennett have said they were stunned when they went to Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick on Dec. 27 for a visitation following her death a week earlier, only to be presented with the bodies of two other women — and then told their loved one had accidentally been cremated.
MacLellan said it's believed the situation is a one-off, but he's open to recommendations from the board following its investigation. He said he would be open to policy changes if required.
Serenity Funeral Home did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.
Bennett's sister, Carolyn Dominey, has said the family planned to have an open casket service, but when they looked inside, they saw the body of another woman dressed in Bennett's clothing.
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"I was shocked,'' Dominey said in an interview Wednesday. "It's like they degraded my sister's body against her wishes.''
Dominey and her daughter, JoAnne, said staff at the funeral home insisted the woman in the casket was in fact Bennett. When they realized it wasn't, the family says they were presented with another body in the casket purchased by Bennett's husband, Gary.
Again, it was not Bennett.
JoAnne Dominey said the family was then told Bennett was mistakenly cremated. But she said it's not clear that the ashes they were given were actually those of Bennett, who died after a prolonged illness.
MacLellan offered his condolences to the family on Thursday.
"It's like they degraded my sister's body against her wishes.''Bennett's sister, Carolyn Dominey
"Losing somebody and a death in the family is the hardest thing you'll go through. It takes every bit of your strength mentally, emotionally and physically just to deal with the process," he said.
"To have this happen and impact these families in this way is tragic, it's devastating, and quite frankly from the government's perspective, it's unacceptable."
The provincial funeral directors board said Wednesday it is likely the first time it has looked into such a case.
Board chairman Adam Tipert said they are examining how the home handled Bennett's remains and ultimately how the 65-year-old woman was cremated, despite wishes from her family that she not be cremated.
Tipert said the board was in the preliminary stages of gathering information on the chain of custody for her body, what discussions were held with the family and what documentation was in place.
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