A funeral director in Sydney, Nova Scotia has had her licence revoked after an investigation found the funeral home was reusing caskets up to six times and failing to put money for prepaid funerals into a trust account.
The Nova Scotia Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors held an inquiry last month into complaints against Jillian Nemis, a funeral director at S.W. Chant & Son Funeral Home.
After the inquiry concluded, the board decided last week to immediately revoke Nemis’s licence, according to a recent CBC story.
“I think it’s safe to say that I speak on behalf of all board members and the funeral profession when I say that I am absolutely shocked and disappointed by the choices made by this funeral director and the funeral home, particularly when you consider their position of trust with families,” board chair Adam Tiper told the Truro News in Nova Scotia.
Chant’s Funeral Home had closed 10 months earlier following a suspicious fire, which destroyed all records.
The funeral home had been facing an investigation over complaints related to prepaid funerals. After the fire, police later announced no fraud charges would be laid.
In its decision on Nemis, the board probed a complaint made in fall 2018 that Chant’s was reusing traditional caskets multiple times.
Purchasers paid Chant $1,375 for the use of a rental casket and wooden insert but were instead placed in a traditional casket for the funeral, the complaint alleged.
The deceased were then removed and placed in a cardboard cremation container, instead of being cremated in the wooden insert, the complaint stated, alleging the used casket was then cleaned of any stains and fluids so it could be used again.
Former funeral home employees testified it was common practice for the home to charge a rental fee for a rental casket, then place the remains in a traditional casket that was later cleaned for reuse.
Three witnesses said the practice was ordered by funeral home owner Sheldon Chant and Nemis had helped clean the caskets and move the remains.
Nemis denied the allegations, saying she often cleaned caskets of dust and water stains but not to be reused.
The inquiry also probed $315,000 taken from 102 purchasers for prepaid funerals in 2018 and 2019 – the money was not placed in a trust account, which is required by the Cemetery and Funeral Services Act.
The inquiry heard that money for prepaid funerals would be placed in an office drawer at the instruction of Chant, who then picked up the money.
The board concluded that Nemis, as the funeral director in charge of the funeral home, should have known placing the money in a drawer for the owner to pick up was a negligent practice.
In its decision, the inquiry found the funeral home engaged in “misrepresentation and fraud” while Nemis was the funeral director in charge.
The board found the practice of reusing traditional caskets meant that families did not get the casket inserts they had purchased. It also found loved ones were placed in traditional caskets that had been previously used as many as six times, possibly more.
“Once we started to dive into that part of the investigation, the suspicious fire had already occurred at the funeral home and of course the records were destroyed,” Tipert said.
He said he had confidence that the majority working in the funeral industry are professionals who understand the rules and regulations around prepaid funerals and the proper use of caskets.
Chant’s funeral home licence was suspended after the fire. The owner also surrendered his funeral director’s licence and embalmer’s licence.
The inquiry also found that Nemis provided funeral director services for an unlicensed home when she arranged a funeral service after Chant’s licence had been suspended.
The revocation of Nemis’s licence means she cannot work as a funeral director in Nova Scotia. She has three months to appeal the decision.