Province shuts down Islands’ after-death service

  • Mar. 17, 2015 4:00 p.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverFrom the Feb. 27 editionFacing a death in the family is never easy and due to a recent order from Consumer Protection B.C., it’s likely to get even harder for the people of Haida Gwaii.The provincial agency recently ordered the only islander providing funeral services for grieving families to immediately cease his activities or face legal action. For many years, Queen Charlotte resident George Westwood has volunteered his time to help friends and family dealing with the loss of loved ones by handling and transporting the bodies and offering emotional support to families. As far as the Observer could verify, Mr. Westwood never accepted payment for his services, nor has he represented himself as a licensed funeral director, but that is what Consumer Protection says he was technically doing.Acting on a tip last October, Consumer Protection investigated Mr. Westwood and concluded his activities were in violation of at least three provincial Legislation Acts and ordered the immediate halt to his activities.Without Mr. Westwood’s assistance, the islands’ communities are now on their own to find an alternative solution for after-death services. According to Consumer Protection, there are three options. The first is to find a willing individual to send off-island for the appropriate training and apprenticeship. That individual, would then be licensed and legally able to operate as a business in the community. Another option would require families of the deceased to handle the funeral arrangements themselves. The third option, advised by Consumer Protection, is to work with a licensed funeral director off Island. The nearest is found at Ferguson Funeral Home in Prince Rupert. However, the company said because they are a small, two-man operation it’s unlikely they would be able to commute to the island. Families would be responsible for transporting bodies to Prince Rupert where the licensed funeral director could then prepare it for burial. Ferguson told the Observer extra fees would apply for Haida Gwaii residents. Being such a small operation Ferguson Funeral Home is also unable to conduct satellite meetings with locals on island. Which was also suggested by BC Consumer Protection as another solution. Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin showed concern about the matter at a recent village council meeting. Mayor Martin has also reached out to provincial ministries, looking for a suitable solution.   North Coast MLA, Jennifer Rice said “I would like to thank George Westwood for providing such an invaluable service to the communities on Haida Gwaii over the past many years. My office has been in contact with the Village of Queen Charlotte regarding the matter, and have offered our assistance, in whatever capacity it may be needed, as they work to transition from the volunteer efforts of Mr. Westwood to a process that is in line with the current regulations around after-death services.” In a letter to the Observer Mr. Westwood expressed frustration over the matter. “To occasionally help neighbours or friends at the time of a death in the family is allowed,” he wrote, “but to do so on an ongoing basis, one is deemed to be acting like a funeral director.”It has been a privilege and honour to have been of help when it is most needed, but I must refrain in the future.”Mr. Westwood declined to comment any further on the matter. You can read his full letter on Page #.

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