Evidence of meeting #30 for Canadian Heritage in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was family.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Tony Pollard  President, Hotel Association of Canada
  • Scott MacLeod  President, Funeral Service Association of Canada
  • Brian McGarry  Funeral Service Association of Canada
  • Allan Cole  Mortuary Affairs Contractor for Deployed Department of National Defence and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual
  • Don Head  Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada
  • Richard Haycock  General Manager, International Association of Venue Managers
  • Sue Lasher  Vice-President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

We've been talking a lot about making sure the family is informed. The family really has the final say. You see it on TV, advertisements about funerals and being prepared for them. I don't know if every family wants to have that conversation yet. I don't know if we're there in terms of people wanting to talk about funerals, talk about death, all of that. I know 80 years from now, I don't know if any of us...well, we have a few MPs who may be around in our caucus—

12:35 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

May 10th, 2012 / 12:35 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

—but it's one of those things where you truly need to be flexible because things are changing. I've spoken with my wife and said that if I happen to kick the bucket over the next little while, I don't want a funeral. I would truly like to have a celebration. If my mother were around—she passed away a few years ago—she would not have had that. We would have had a funeral no matter what I said, but it's a celebration.

Interestingly enough, Ms. Lasher, I stumbled on an article in the Toronto Star from a few years back where you were quoted about hearing a motorcycle heading out of a chapel at the end of a service and that shocked you. At the same time, you recognized the need for flexibility.

Mr. Head, I like the way you described how we should be looking at the difference between a custom and a protocol, and looking at the definition. Do we need to have such strong flexibility, what we've been talking about, to ensure that the family's wishes are there, but at the same time do we need some protocol, that there's a phone book rather than a rule book as to who you can contact or who you follow up with to ensure that the protocol is being met, but that there's flexibility for the family? Would that be fair?

12:35 p.m.

Vice-President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

Sue Lasher

I've had experience with the Calgary Police Service. We've done many services for them. They definitely have a protocol they follow. I always feel just a little sorry for the family because it seems as if they get lost in it, and that's always been...I'm sorry, I'm a funeral director and that's where my heart is. That's what we've all been trying to convey here.

Definitely I think there is a difference between protocol and custom. I agree with the gentleman at the end of the table. A little flexibility needs to be there so that the family doesn't get lost.

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

That's very important. Thank you for that.

Mr. Cole, you look as if you're chomping at the bit to say something.

12:35 p.m.

Mortuary Affairs Contractor for Deployed Department of National Defence and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual

Allan Cole

I agree entirely that we have to maintain this level of flexibility. However, there are going to be some key elements such as the flag. What can we do with the flag? The following four points are ways in which you can celebrate a life lost with the presence of the Canadian flag, and here's how you can display it. Here's the method by which you can fold it and present it to the family. Whether you have cremated remains or remains in a full-sized casket, you would have honorary pallbearers. Where do they sit? When do they come into the event, be it religious or otherwise? Where would dignitaries sit, and in what order would they sit?

12:35 p.m.

NDP

Glenn Thibeault Sudbury, ON

Mr. Cole, I only have five minutes, so I'm sorry to.... What you're saying is we should be looking at updating some of the protocols we have, especially when we hear from all of you in relation to the problems we're having with nylon flags. So updating our current guides or our current, as I call it, phone book, rather than the rule book...having those updated I think is important, but again, the flexibility for families so that they don't get forgotten at the end of the day I think is truly important.

Mr. Cole, I thank you for all the fantastic work you've been doing in relation to the repatriation ceremonies. My community, and I think any community right across the country, has celebrated the lives of our soldiers who have given so much. It's been fantastic just to be able to be part of it and to see what you've done. So I tip my hat to you, and I'm sure on behalf of all of us we say thanks for that.

Jumping to you, Mr. Head, can you reiterate some of the differences you see between custom and protocol? Can you give an example of how you would see a protocol and a custom, and what shouldn't we be differentiating?

12:35 p.m.

Commissioner, Correctional Service of Canada

Don Head

I think protocol, as others have pointed out, would be involved for such things as how to deal with the flag, how to deal with the order of precedence. Those, to me, are protocols. Those are things that need to be respected. There needs to be a standard approach, and really there should be no deviation from that.

For customs there is flexibility. I think as some of the knowledgeable people around the table have indicated, if you have somebody of aboriginal ancestry who has passed away, right now there's really no place to go to look at how you incorporate that into a traditional kind of ceremony. Seeing that as a custom that respects the individual and respects the wishes or desires of the family would fall into that kind of category.

When I'm talking about customs, customs grow and change depending on the people of the day and the demographics of a community, and they reflect the needs at that time, but protocols are things that don't change. For me, anything that is related to national symbols or to orders of precedence should not change. To me, those truly reflect the Canadian way. This is a Canadian thumbprint on whatever approach or ceremony you're pursuing.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Thibeault.

Mr. Calandra.

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Thank you.

I'm kind of hearing that those who interpret protocol don't want it written down and that those of you who are tasked to carry out the interpretation seem to benefit from certain written-down guidelines. That is the dilemma we are faced with.

There's no greater honour—it doesn't matter whether it's for a fallen soldier, somebody's grandparent, or whoever it is—than to be selected to carry out someone's last wishes. That has to be the biggest honour any of you could get. Doing it wrong when you have the ability to get it right doesn't fall upon the person who interpreted it. It falls upon you if you get it wrong.

Mr. Cole and Mr. McGarry—and all of you can comment—nobody in any way, shape, or form is suggesting that if basic principles are written down, anything becomes so rigid that you'd say, “Here's a state funeral. Take it or leave it.” None of us on this side are suggesting that in any way, shape, or form.

Mr. Cole, if we wrote anything down as a guideline, are you in any way suggesting that it couldn't be deviated from?

12:40 p.m.

Mortuary Affairs Contractor for Deployed Department of National Defence and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual

Allan Cole

It has to be deviated from in order to address the variety of needs we're faced with. Absolutely it has to have that degree of flexibility. As a professional I would say that we always consider any of these to be a zero-defect mission. We can't do it twice. There is no such thing as a practice run. It's once over the target, and it had better be perfect. We all strive to ensure that that's the reality. From time to time, something might go amiss, but, God willing, it's so minimal that it doesn't reflect on the overall dignity and respect afforded and paid to the individual.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

Mr. McGarry.

12:40 p.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

I guess we're augmenting each other, but I'll just deal with state occasions for the moment. A state funeral takes on a personality of its own. You'd wonder how that would happen, but it does. We often have instructions long before the death. I'll give two examples—and I'm not betraying anything here, because this was well known by many.

Mr. Trudeau would never talk about his funeral. He said, “Figure it out.” Then Mr. Diefenbaker could hardly wait for his funeral to happen, quite frankly. He called it “Operation Hope Not”. With great respect, I'd say he kept Heritage Canada going for years, Actually, he was a very good friend of my mentor. One was one extreme and said, “Figure it out”, and the other said, “Here's what I want”, which was basically Winston Churchill's funeral.

That's what we want to do. We want to create a meaningful event that not only the deceased but the family want.

Protocol, then, does not dictate entirely. I gave the instance of the flag. That was a tough decision by everybody, but it went on and Canadians didn't get in a twist over it, really.

Funerals now really are celebrations of life in themselves. They differ widely. When Chief Justice Bora Laskin died—as we know, he was from the Jewish community—talk about getting something together quickly, because normally they like to have the funeral the very next day. The coordination there was extraordinary between all parties, including the family. We had a state funeral here and he was interred in Toronto the same day.

It involves cooperation. It involves communication, as was mentioned by one gentleman. Generally it comes out pretty well, but flexibility is the theme here today. It really is. We have to acknowledge that.

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Paul Calandra Oak Ridges—Markham, ON

I mean no disrespect to Mr. Thibeault, but I kind of worry about a phone-book approach. I suspect that the two of you would be quite busy if we created a guide of people you could call as opposed to a guide saying that this is how you would do it.

If we went down the road of creating or pulling together the armed forces or whoever, including the new traditions we have for repatriation, who else would we involve in bringing together a protocol? And how would we then ensure that it gets to everybody?

What suggestions do you have to make the Canadian Heritage website easier for people to actually use for this?

12:45 p.m.

Mortuary Affairs Contractor for Deployed Department of National Defence and Royal Canadian Mounted Police, As an Individual

Allan Cole

Who would you consult? First off, there's an organization in Toronto called the Ontario Multifaith Council. Various religious groups come together to discuss areas of mutual concern. I don't know if that exists nationally, but consulting various faiths and cultural authorities to address the multitude of concerns they have when planning their funerals I think would be a good step.

I think you have a wealth of knowledge among the funeral directors of Canada that practise this day in and day out. Funeral directors cooperate readily with uniformed personnel, be they fire personnel or police services. I think there are a significant number of Canadians who have a great deal of expertise in this regard, and I think they could easily generate a group to discuss this and come up with a consolidated program.

In terms of how to put it on the website and make it easy to read, having various options in point form I think would be perfect, because in all likelihood, as we've found with funeral services, this information may well be required on a Saturday afternoon in Prince George, British Columbia.

I didn't clearly understand what the phone-book approach meant. We want something we can refer to, in areas of Canada where there aren't experts readily available to interpret what should normally happen, so that we can put it into practice.