Cemeteries update – Provincial Synod

The Ontario Provincial Synod

The Anglican Church of Canada

June 11, 2015

Cemeteries Update

On June 4 and 5 the Anglican Church in the Province hosted a Provincial Cemeteries Consultation in Toronto. This brought representatives of the Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and United Churches in the Province together with the Ontario government’s senior policy staff working in this area and members of the Board of Directors of the new Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

On January 1, 2016, the Ontario government’s Cemeteries Regulation Unit will be dissolved and most of its functions will be transferred to a new delegated administrative authority to be known as the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO). This new Authority will combine the former functions of the CRU with those of the Board of Funeral Services which presently regulates funeral directors and establishments.

We have had deep concerns about this transition and what it will mean for us. The religious sector is the second largest holder of cemeteries in the Province.   The Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Churches hold well over 85% of these religious sector cemeteries. We have been working jointly since 2001 on this file and, intensely so, over the last three years in discussions with the government as the necessary Cabinet and Minister’s regulations were drafted and put into place to bring the new BAO into existence.

The Cemeteries Regulation Unit has been one of the easiest agencies of the Ontario government to work with and we do not want to lose this. We do have large cemeteries with professional fulltime staff but most of our cemeteries are small and rural and depend on volunteers to do the paperwork and annual filings and the staff of the CRU have been very supportive and understanding in providing encouragement and advice to these volunteers.

We are also very aware of the approaching ‘volunteer collapse threshold’ which will mean that we will no longer be able to maintain many of our smaller rural cemeteries and will have to consider using the ‘abandonment’ clause of the Act and what this will mean if municipalities begin resisting becoming the ‘holders of last resort’ of increasing numbers of cemeteries. Understandably, municipalities are concerned about this as these newly acquired cemeteries then become a burden on their public works budgets and will need to be maintained at the standards required for municipally held property.

Equally of concern is the over $ 2 billion now held in Care and Maintenance and other trust funds and who will now have access to these funds and the interest they generate and whether they might be diverted for other purposes.

Last Thursday night the Anglicans hosted the twelve religious representatives (teams of three each from the Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Churches) at dinner and then used the next three hours to prepare our joint position. The Anglican team consisted of Michael Herbert (Director of Financial Ministry of our Ottawa diocese), Rob Saffrey (Director of Operations and Finance for St. James’ Cathedral and its cemetery operation in Toronto, and former finance director of the Toronto diocese), and myself.

On Friday, June 4, we hosted the government’s senior policy staff and the senior Board and staff members of the new Bereavement Authority at a meeting at St. James’ Cathedral in Toronto.   The Bereavement Authority’s representation was led by Tom Wright (the former Ontario Information and Privacy Commissioner) who has been appointed by the government as the Chair of the Authority.

The consensus among the religious representatives at the de-brief following this meeting was that it was very successful. We now have an agreement on the membership and mandate of the Faith Based Advisory Committee which will have nine members. This is one of three Advisory Committees; the others being the ‘Cemetery, Crematorium and Municipal Advisory Committee’ and the ‘Funeral and Transfer Services Committee.’

This means that each of our Churches will be appointing someone to a designated seat on this Faith Based Committee. Moreover, we now have agreement that the members of this Committee will be able to receive and deal with concerns and complaints and advocate for broader concerns and proposals with the Authority’s staff and Board.   The Chair of the Faith Based Committed will be a member of the Board of Directors of the Authority.

As importantly, there will now be two seats out of six set aside for “religious cemetery operators” on the Cemetery, Crematorium and Municipal Advisory Committee. We have agreed among ourselves that the four Churches will jointly make nominations to these seats which will be accepted by the government and the Authority. This very much increases our ability know what is actually happening in this area and to safeguard our interests.

We will be canvassing our dioceses later this year for suggestions as to Anglican appointments to these two Committees.

In our discussions with the government over the last three years leading to the present design of the Bereavement Authority’s organizational structure we have raised a number of concerns in addition to that of wanting the good work done by the present Cemeteries Regulation Unit continued. We now have a commitment that one of the priorities of the new Authority will be enhanced education and client support services (helping our volunteers in their work).

One of the government’s purposes in creating this new delegated administrative authority is that it will raise its own funding for staff and operations and these costs will no longer come from the public treasury. This raises the possibility that some of this new funding might be raised by new fees and levies applied to our cemetery operations.   We now have a commitment that this will not happen and that the necessary new funding will be raised by an increase in the fees for burial permits and other fees presently in place associated with individual funeral costs.

We are anticipating that a similar Consultation involving our four Churches will take place each year with the government’s senior policy staff working in this area and the Directors and senior policy and operations staff of the new Bereavement Authority. This will provide you with direct input about policy and regulatory operations affecting our cemeteries both through our representatives on the two new Authority committees and through this annual Consultation involving the four Churches.

I hope that this Note has been helpful. We will keep you updated as work on this file goes forward and, please, do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this.

The very best,
Archdeacon Dr. Harry Huskins
Executive Officer
Ontario Provincial Synod