Judge exonerates Nova Scotia funeral director in case of mistakenly cremated body
Joe Curry was processing a knot of emotions Friday after a Nova Scotia judge ruled he was not to blame when two bodies were switched in December 2021, and the wrong one was cremated.
The Sydney, N.S., undertaker said he was relieved to be finally exonerated but he remained deeply hurt by the decision of his professional organization to suspend his licence and launch a battle that wound up in court.
"I look forward to having my licence put back in my hands," Curry said in an interview. "But the big message is that I was cleared, I was recognized as being a continuing professional, and that I was in full respect of the act and regulations."
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Timothy Gabriel ruled this week that Curry was not at fault when the medical examiner's office sent him the wrong body and he cremated it on Dec. 13, 2021, at Forest Haven Memorial Gardens in Sydney. Gabriel found the province's Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors was wrong when it concluded Curry was required to verify the identity of the remains, noting provincial rules say no such thing.
The medical examiner's office has a detailed policy explaining exactly how a body's identity ought to be verified before it is sent for cremation, the judge added in his decision dated Wednesday. However, the examiner's office mislabelled the remains and sent Curry the body of a man whose family did not want him to be cremated.
"This error set the whole tragic chain of events in motion," Gabriel wrote. The judge ordered that Curry's funeral director's licence be immediately reinstated.
Curry, 81, said that as soon as his lawyer told him the news on Wednesday, he went to the Forest Haven Funeral Home for "a big hugging session" with his colleagues.
Curry grew up in the funeral business: his grandfather started a family funeral home in 1907, and his father took it over. Curry is one of eight sons, six of whom are licensed funeral directors. He said he began helping out at the home when he was eight years old.
"I grew into my dedication to the service that he provided," he said, referring to his father.
The ordeal with the Board of Registration of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has been damaging to the profession, he added. "It needs to be reminded to the people in the public that we are a profession, that we are here for you, we will look after you," Curry said.
Before his legal tussle he had been hoping to live to 102, but after the stress of the last 15 months, he says he has revised his goal down to 97.
(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie)