May 6, 2014 3:56 pm

Remains discovered in Quebec funeral home after director lost permit to practice

White roses at a funeral service.

Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty

MONTREAL – Several Quebec families have suffered even more than necessary after the funeral director they entrusted with the remains of their loved ones has disappeared.

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After years struggling with over a million dollars in debt, Patrick Fortin, the director of a funeral home in the small town of L’Épiphanie, was investigated by Quebec’s Consumer Protection Office and found guilty of fraud.

Fortin had been accepting advance payments for funeral services from clients, but was not putting all of the money in a trust as he was required to do by law.

On April 10, the permit that allowed Fortin to operate as funeral director was revoked by the Minister of Health and Social Services.

However officials did not visit the funeral home for another seven days, and when they did, they were in for a gruesome surprise.

Nine bodies were discovered in the morgue because families had left the remains of their loved ones with the director, with the understanding that the bodies would be cremated.

But arrangements had not been made to transfer the work to another funeral home and none of the families had been contacted.

A glimpse of the exterior of Patrick Fortin’s funeral home in the town of L’Épiphanie, Que.

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“It is unbelievable and unacceptable that no one took care of the bodies at the funeral home,” Nathalie Samson told Global News.

She is the director general for Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ), a body that oversees the funeral director profession in the province.

“This is the first time a funeral director has had his permit revoked. Who is responsible? Mr. Fortin or the Ministry of Health or the Office of Consumer Protection? We don’t know.”

What upsets Samson the most is that such a long delay does not convey respect or dignity to those who died, nor to their families.

“This type of problem happens because the law dates back to 1974. It’s not up-to-date, it’s missing elements that would protect the public and it needs to be revised quickly.”

She said that the law ought to include clear guidelines for training and a code of ethics.

“It needs to be in black and white that the corpse must be treated with dignity.”

She noted that when someone dies, the bereaved are vulnerable and the role of the funeral director is complex. They are not just technicians, but must also have psychological skills and a strong sense of integrity.

Samson confirmed that Fortin was not a member of the CTQ because he would not sign the organization’s code of ethics. Nor would his wife, who is still a practising funeral director. Apparently, Fortin can still practise as an embalmer and his wife could hire him to work for her.

But what of the families, some of whom have waited several weeks to have their loved ones cremated, and have already paid Fortin for his services. Unfortunately, many of them may have to pay again.

The good news is that Magnus Poirier, a Montreal-area funeral home, has taken on the responsibility of caring for the remains.

The funeral director there will contact all of the families to advise them of what happened, so that finally, their loved ones can be put to rest.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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