Calgary parents desperate to find deceased daughter's ashes, funeral home sued
It’s been just over three years since Mariana Ruiz’s newborn daughter Alana died hours after she was born. For her family, the pain is still raw.
“I miss her every day of my life. Every single day she's in my mind, in my heart,” said a tearful Ruiz. “I wanted a place where I could go talk to her even if she’s not here with me.”
Alana was taken off life support 18 hours after she was delivered on October 27, 2017 following complications late in the pregnancy.
“Coming back home with empty hands it was devastating. Going home with an urn and ashes it was even more devastating,” she said.
Alana’s tiny body was cremated. Her remains were temporarily being stored at Elegant Tributes, a funeral home in northeast Calgary, until the family made plans for a springtime memorial.
Ruiz said in June 2018, she and her husband happened to be driving by the business, located just of McKnight Boulevard when she noticed it was closed.
Alana’s ashes were gone.
“My mind started to panic,” said Ruiz. “We were told they were going to be a in a safe place and they were along with a teddy bear that we got from the nurses at the hospital.”
The couple made multiple attempts to reach owner Mike Dost. Ruiz said Dost eventually told them he scattered Alana’s ashes at Edworthy Park, without the family’s consent.
Ruiz said she doesn’t believe that's where the ashes were dumped. The couple went to the park to search for the urn or the teddy bear.
“I want to know where she is.”
Ruiz said they complained to the Alberta Funeral Services regulatory board. Thursday the executive director confirmed to CTV there was a complaint filed and it’s now closed.
The couple also filed a lawsuit against Dost and his business to demand answers.
“Sometimes you take a case because your heart goes out to somebody and this is kind of one of those cases where something pretty bad happened to somebody and we wanted to see justice done for them,” said Mathew Farrell, partner at Guardian Law Group, who is representing Ruiz. Farrell said the couple trusted their daughter's remains to the company.
“You have a duty of care to that person’s family to make sure that you’re doing what is reasonable to make sure that family is not harmed. The defendant in this case, we’re alleging fell below that standard,” said Farrell.
“We empathize with the family and understand that their grief is ongoing after the death of their child,” said Mike Dost in an email to CTV.
“Since the situation came to light, we have been trying to resolve the issue in good will. It is unfortunate that the family is seeking to heal their pain through the courts,” the statement reads. "We are bound by Confidentiality laws and until the court proceedings are complete, we are unable to provide any additional detail."
None of the allegations have been tested in court. A trial date stemming from the lawsuits is scheduled for next year.
An appeal hearing is set for Friday. Dost is attempting to separate himself from his company in an effort to not be held personally responsible.
The province said if a funeral home closes, the director of funeral services, which is currently the Alberta Funeral Services regulatory board, has the authority to take possession of cremated remains.
Funeral homes have to make reasonable efforts to contact the person who has right-of-control over the remains.
The ministry of Service Alberta said, under current legislation, if cremated remains are not claimed within five years, the funeral home may dispose of them respectfully.