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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

11:40 a.m.

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

Allan Cole

I know other people have appeared before the committee. I work very closely with Stewart Kellock, the sergeant for the Toronto Police Service, who came to you and said the same thing, that during a variety of events that we have been involved in, we sought direction from any source in terms of where we could refer to come up with the right way to do things in keeping with Canadian standards and protocols. We found there wasn't a comprehensive document.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

With the remaining time I have left—there's probably not too much of it—could you all agree or disagree, maybe in a couple of quick comments, if we were to make a recommendation that we should try to have the Canadian way—some sort of central program or framework. One of the other things people brought to us is that you have to keep that flexibility. Would you agree that if we made that a recommendation, we would also have to recommend that this is a framework, and you have to maintain flexibility for things like funerals, for example, contacting the family and meeting the family's wishes? Is it safe to say you would all agree with that?

11:40 a.m.

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

Allan Cole

Yes. In particular, the multicultural fabric of our nation dictates that we have to have that flexibility to address the variety of needs identified in the Canadian population today.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

You all would agree there is a need for some sort of central document, but not something that binds people too tightly? Is that fair to say?

11:40 a.m.

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

Allan Cole

Absolutely.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

Scott Armstrong Conservative Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, NS

Thank you very much.

11:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Armstrong.

Mr. Nantel.

11:40 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Thank you for participating in our study.

First off, I want to congratulate you, Mr. McGarry. We can clearly see how passionate you are about this topic. About a week ago, I believe, your book launch was celebrated at Ottawa City Hall. Congratulations.

I would say the funeral industry is certainly built on protocol; protocol is at the core of its activities, from ceremony to mourning. As you pointed out—at least I think it was you—protocol marks symbolic passings and helps allay our fears when someone departs this life.

What I am about to say is addressed to those of you who are directly involved in funeral services. I would imagine that every day, you are faced with a wide range of demands, given the different beliefs that people have. What do all those demands have in common, even though they vary from religion to religion?

11:45 a.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

Thank you for the question.

From the very formal aspect, the community involves many leaders of various religious faiths who attend, even though it might be a funeral for a Christian. In Ottawa, you might see Rabbi Reuven Bulka there. From that perspective, I think we're saying already we respect the family's beliefs, but we also respect all of you who are here today, even those who may not have a Christian background or whatever. So we do that. Of course, we meet with the family along with a member from Heritage Canada.

Perhaps I will let others respond. I would like to come back to Scott after your question for a very brief comment.

11:45 a.m.

President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

Scott MacLeod

To add to that, the challenges are vast for funeral directors today. As Brian has commented, the challenges we face are not just religious beliefs but family conflicts. You have issues within the family that we have to cope with. For example, we have had families that can only—the husband and wife are separated, so they come at different times. They don't want to sit beside each other. Those are just small examples of what we deal with every day. Of course, there's the religious belief. That could be handled through the funeral part of the service. That's specific to that area. In relation to the visitation, the receiving line, and all those details that are important to the funeral service, it's critical that we communicate with the family and have their input into what will happen with this state funeral.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you.

I will let you answer the question you wanted to answer.

11:45 a.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

I just wanted to augment what the Honourable Scott Armstrong was saying. We shouldn't at all discount the security aspect in funerals now. I'm going to give you a very quick two examples.

One is John Diefenbaker's funeral at Christ Church Cathedral here in Ottawa. We were seated and we were ready for the clergy to start the service when, lo and behold, there was a bomb threat. The church had already been swept by the RCMP, by the local police. They were quite satisfied, but who ultimately decides? So I took it upon myself, along with Graham Glockling, who some of you may know from Heritage.... Joe Clark was the Prime Minister at the time. We went to his seat of honour, of course, and he was right near John Diefenbaker's casket, so we said, “Sir, this is the situation. What do we do?” To add a little humour, he said, “The only guy who can hurt me in here is actually in the box.” What he meant was that the police have looked after it, they've taken care of it, and I think we'll take our chances on that.

Secondly, very quickly, it happens more often than we'd like. In Montreal, with Pierre Trudeau, as we were moving to city hall, again there was a threat that there was going to be a bomb at city hall. Your man in the RCMP, Sergeant Major Mercier, I think it was at the time—he's retired now, a very capable guy—stopped the procession and they did their immediate checks, whatever they entail, quite a lot I think, and he said proceed. We were actually stopped for maybe close to a half hour.

I just wanted to underline, sir, what you were saying and the importance of that now in today's world.

11:45 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Thank you.

Actually, Mr. Cole was referring to some holes and variations that are uncertain in many situations concerning the military. Unfortunately, DND could not come as witnesses, so they may have, according to the other witnesses....

Those people may have coordination issues, but the military service seems to be quite adequate.

Mr. McGarry, your book demonstrates the fact that protocol runs quite smoothly here in Ottawa. In coordinating the various aspects involved, you consult certain references, and usually those are experts, thankfully. You don't just become an expert. You have subject matter experts, and at the other end, in the protocol offices themselves, you also have people who know what they are doing. It all seems to work well.

11:50 a.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

This shouldn't be a criticism, of course, of Heritage Canada, for instance, or the RCMP, not at all. I think it's the inconsistency when something happens.

Most recently, with the Honourable Jack Layton, it involved two cities, two funeral directors. We were only in a supportive role; Rosar-Morrison in Toronto had the lead role. There was a bit of inconsistency, but I think we came across your expert in Toronto in the city police and we were able to coordinate.

So it's not a criticism so much as some sort of website so that someone can go to immediately and get some base instructions to start the process.

11:50 a.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel NDP Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Actually, on the Heritage website, it is true that protocol is under “Anthems and Symbols”. I guess protocol should be a separate thumbnail.

11:50 a.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

I think so.

11:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Rob Moore

Thank you, Mr. Nantel.

Just as a note, Mr. Nantel, the Canadian Forces and the Legion are going to be appearing later.

Mr. Simms.

May 10th, 2012 / 11:50 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

I'm not going to take too long, given your directions. We have so many witnesses, so I'm just going to get my questions out at the beginning and I'll let all of you answer the questions very simply.

Number one is a question I asked our last witnesses, which was, if we're looking at one source that is flexible yet somewhat uniform, as in how we deal with protocol across the board for everything you do, who should handle that? Who should be the one to do that?

Also, we talk about the frustrations, and that interests me. You mentioned your frustrations. What frustrates you the most when dealing with protocol, when dealing with your clients? You take the fine line between what the client wants or what the family wants and of course the rigidity or uniformity across the board in how this type of thing is handled.

11:50 a.m.

President, Hotel Association of Canada

Tony Pollard

Thank you very much, Mr. Simms.

From a hotel point of view—and I'm not trying to be disrespectful at all when I say this—we go to the guest or the client when they approach us, and so long as what they are asking for is legal and moral and we've agreed upon a budget, then we will typically do just about anything at all to make your life comfortable and happy.

Your question is about where we run into difficulties, about what is the biggest hindrance. The Government of Canada is our single largest client. The government represents between 11% and 12% of all of our business, including you folks. There is not one single thing where we say, “Oh, my goodness, this is a problem.” We have most of it pretty much figured out—our industry has been around for thousands of years.

I can't say that there's one single thing. Bureaucracy sometimes can become a little bit of a pain—which it is to all of us—but typically, most people have it figured out. What do they need? What do they want? What are the requirements? Some people are better educated on it and more experienced than others, but I can't really say that there's one single item.

That's a long answer to....

11:50 a.m.

President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

Scott MacLeod

I think the challenge that the funeral service deals with today is that the client or the family we are dealing with comes in to make arrangements as an open book almost. They're not prepared for the scenario. They're not prepared for this to happen, and the funeral homes can really help to direct them. So if there were a set protocol that we said was a standard across Canada for a state funeral and asked if they were comfortable with it, I think the majority of families that have come through our funeral homes would accept the majority of that or a high proportion of that.

That is our challenge in funeral service, in that families will come in and have a basic idea, or they want one little thing that has to happen because “Dad always mentioned this”, but then we have to work around it. We have to say okay, and then ask “What about this and this and this?” and get to that final service plan. So a standardized template would be fantastic to present to a family. I think they would be open for that.

11:55 a.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Do you have any suggestions on who would do that?

11:55 a.m.

President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

Scott MacLeod

Well, it has to come from a central location. At the FSAC level, of course, we'd be glad to assist in any way we can.

11:55 a.m.

Sue Lasher Vice-President, Funeral Service Association of Canada

I don't have a lot more to add to what Scott said, but obviously every service we do has a sense of protocol to it, I think. Obviously there are the different cultures and religions that we deal with all day, every day. I guess the important thing that I just want to keep coming back to is the flexibility for the family's needs. Sometimes they kind of get lost in all the protocol.

11:55 a.m.

Funeral Service Association of Canada

Brian McGarry

In Ottawa, we look very much toward Heritage Canada, obviously, and currently to the two Kevins, as I call them—Kevin Vickers and also Kevin MacLeod. As you know, they are the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Usher of the Black Rod. They are wonderful people to work with—Heritage Canada is, too, by the way.

Just to give you one example where there's a hard...well, we found the Canadian compromise. That's what we turned to when Mr. Diefenbaker died. As you may be aware, he wasn't that fond of the new Canadian flag and had left instructions that it was not to be on his casket. I'll get to the great Canadian compromise—you'll see it in the book. We ended up actually having the two flags—not proper protocol, but we had to do something—stitched together and the two flags were actually on the casket.

So these are the surprises we get, and particularly from a family dynamic, as you keep referring to. His stepdaughter was not too pleased that this was created right at the time of the funeral, but we got through it. But we needed someone to turn to, and we needed someone to be the boss. Usually it is what I'll call the chief of ceremonial oaths—at the time, Graham Glockling, back in the Diefenbaker days. There was some discussion, but there's a point of entry, and to me—and I'm sure my colleague will have others—it's Heritage Canada that we are really.... They and the family are who we are working for.

11:55 a.m.

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

Allan Cole

I agree completely. The “who”, in my opinion, is history and heritage.

You asked about frustration, and I wouldn't characterize what we do as resulting in frustration. We're used to opposing viewpoints, and we've become very adept at creating options and alternatives, which is what we have to have in dealing with our Canadian population.

I would reiterate what Brian said to highlight the idea of some key points that would serve as a starting point, in terms of these being the key elements of what we see, and then we see how that fits. So the family will make their determination as to whether they want the body present or the body not present for the funeral, whether to have cremation before the ceremony or after the ceremony, whether they are honouring the deceased in a casket or in an urn, how the flag is to be positioned when there is an urn—these sorts of things—and create variations and options. As Scott said, we in our community would be delighted to help you understand the variety of options that are available to address the current scenario as we find it in Canada.