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Board looks into allegations bodies switched at N.S. funeral home

From CTV - February 13, 2018

HALIFAX -- The family of a woman who was mistakenly cremated after a bizarre mix-up at a Nova Scotia funeral home declined to participate in an inquiry Tuesday, saying the process lacks transparency and is geared to help the industry.

The Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors held a closed-door hearing in Halifax to determine what happened at the Serenity Funeral Home in Berwick in December.

Relatives of Sandra Bennett say they arrived at the home on Dec. 27 for a visitation but found the body of another woman dressed in Bennett's clothing in the casket. They say a second body was presented to them, but again it was not their 65-year-old relative and they were told Bennett was mistakenly cremated.

Adam Tipert of the funeral directors board said its findings could lead to changes affecting other funeral homes in the province. Serenity Funeral Home has not responded to requests for comment.

Paul Walter, lawyer for the Bennett family, said Tuesday that his clients had declined to participate, adding that it was "quite clear this board is essentially run by people in the funeral industry."

"We decided to back out of it," said Walter. "It's just not a process geared, from my perspective, to benefit my clients."

Walter said under the hearing process, his clients could be questioned but would not be given the opportunity to ask their own questions of representatives of the Serenity Funeral Home.

Walter said Sandra Bennett's husband, Gary, is "not happy in the least."

"He did not want to participate in something that was in essence not giving him or his relatives the degree of respect and dignity that they should be receiving in this process."

Walter provided The Canadian Press with a series of emails to illustrate his concerns with the hearing. The exchanges are with an official that Walter asked be identified simply as a "board member."

In the first email, Feb. 8, Walter was told of the proposed schedule for the hearing.

"The board thought it would be best to have the Bennett family go first so they wo not have to wait around and can leave after they have provided their statements," said the board member. "This will also allow them to hear opening remarks."

In his reply, Walter said he was under the impression the family would be able to pose questions of the funeral home described in the schedule as "licensees."

"I do note that each 'licensee' is given an opportunity to ask questions of Sandra Bennett's relatives, so is it not fair and reasonable for the same opportunity to be afforded Sandra Bennett's relatives?"

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