Westwood’s funeral services given the OK

  • Apr. 15, 2015 2:00 p.m.

By Stacey MarpleHaida Gwaii ObserverGeorge Westwood has been given permission to continue his funeral services on Haida Gwaii. After months of uncertainty, in the Legislative Assembly March 26 Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton said in very plain wording the services he provided were of great value to the community, which he may continue to offer on a volunteer basis as before.”When you lose a loved one, there is no question that there are many people who can help you, and a knowledgeable volunteer can be of great assistance to families,” Ms. Anton said. “Mr. Westwood was a knowledgeable man and helped families and may be continuing to help families on Haida Gwaii. He may do that as a volunteer.” Her words were in sharp contrast from a previous Question Period when, in response to North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice’s first questions on the matter, she said the government could do very little to reverse the decision of Consumer Protection B.C.But then last week Ms. Rice had fired back again, demanding a solution to the crisis and an apology for George Westwood who for 20 years has voluntarily filled a void, due to the absence of any professional funeral directors on the islands. “What steps has she taken to help George Westwood continue his much-needed services on Haida Gwaii? [Will she] apologize for her callous remarks?”While no apology followed, permission for Mr. Westwood to offer services was given.”Volunteers can help people,” she said. “They can help them in their times of need. That’s the assistance, I gather, that Mr. Westwood was offering on Haida Gwaii. He was not able to cross the line. He is not to cross the line. But certainly, helping families is a helpful thing and a good thing for him to do.” Consumer Protection B.C. is now working with the Funeral Association of British Columbia, using the George Westwood affair as a starting point to amend provincial polices so similar conflicts don’t arise in other B.C. communities.Queen Charlotte Mayor Greg Martin, who also demanded an apology from Ms. Anton earlier this month, was thrilled with the development.”I am relieved that the situation seems to be resolving. This is partly about one devoted volunteer, but more importantly, this is about community,” Mr. Martin said.In a telephone interview with Ms. Rice, she too stated her relief the matter was resolved.”I’m glad that George is able to go back to providing volunteer funeral services. I know from many constituents on Haida Gwaii that he is an incredible and beloved asset to the community,” she said.For the past two decades Mr. Westwood has helped islands families with funeral services for deceased loved ones by arranging consultations with coroners, consoling family members and both dressing and delivering the dead to their resting place. There is no known incident where he accepted payment or performed duties requiring special licence, such as embalming. Nonetheless, acting on an anonymous complaint, Consumer Protection B.C, the agency that oversees the Funeral Services Act, ordered Mr. Westwood to immediately terminate his services last December. As there is no law prohibiting the services he offered on a voluntary, non-professional basis, Ms. Rice had previously asked the Minister of Justice in the Legislature to justify the action against Mr. Westwood. In a response now infamous across the province, Ms. Anton reiterated Consumer Protection’s laws, then added, “I do wish the residents well and hope that they can come to a resolution.”After the initial reports in the Observer, the story attracted considerable media attention province wide. In an email last week, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Observer the matter will continue to be examined so other remote communities without a professional funeral director aren’t needlessly restricted in the burial of their dead.”While discussions are still in the preliminary stages,” he said, “Ministry staff and Consumer Protection B.C met with the B.C Funeral Association just this week and opened a dialogue on the issue.”

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