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Funeral home industry on P.E.I. working to rebuild trust after former director jailed

Crapaud-based Dawson Funeral Home shut down in 2022, when RCMP began investigating financial irregularities. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)
Crapaud-based Dawson Funeral Home shut down in 2022, when RCMP began investigating financial irregularities. (Wayne Thibodeau/CBC - image credit)

Nathaniel Lamoureux says he was relieved when former funeral director Lowell Oakes was sentenced to jail last week for stealing more than $425,000 from clients over a 20-year-period.

But as the chair of the P.E.I. Funeral Services and Professions Board, he knows it will take work to rebuild trust in the industry.

The court heard Oakes, who owned Dawson Funeral Home in Crapaud, spent money earmarked for pre-paid funerals for his own personal use.

He had pleaded guilty to 66 counts of fraud, including 36 counts of fraud over $5,000 and 30 counts of fraud under $5,000.

"The industry as a whole was not only shocked to find out this information, but just all around disappointed in the actions that were taken by Dawson Funeral Home and more specifically Mr. Oakes," Lamoureux said in an interview with CBC News: Compass host Louise Martin.

"Families, when they enter into a Funeral Home, they're in an environment of trust and that trust was broken. And it's something that the funeral board definitely takes very, very seriously."

Nathaniel Lamoureux says the P.E.I. Funeral Services and Professions Board has been working with the Department of Justice and Public Safety on measures to make sure nothing like the Dawson Funeral Home case happens again. (CBC/Zoom)

Oakes was sentenced to two years less a day in jail and ordered to pay restitution to his victims.

But since Oakes declared bankruptcy, families of the victims have told CBC News they are not sure how to recoup their losses. Some have asked the government to step in and compensate the victims.

The funeral home shut down in 2022 during the RCMP investigation and was put up for sale.

Lamoureux said funeral homes are required to carry liability insurance of $2,000,000, but it's not clear if that money would be available to victims.

'Essentially unregulated' prior to 2014

The Prearranged Funeral Services Act dates back to 1984, but the P.E.I. Funeral Services and Professions Board did not come together until 2014.

There were previously associations in place that fostered public awareness of a funeral service and promoted continuing education among the licensed individuals, but prior to 2014, "funeral service on P.E.I. was essentially unregulated," Lamoureux said.

"There was no regulatory board from a funeral perspective to oversee an act like the Prearranged Funeral Services Act. But in 2016, when the board was finally in a position to move forward with inspections, we did that right away."

That said, "We can only really oversee what's within our act and those are things like licensing, continuing education, you know, health and safety and disciplinary measures, things like that."

The board has been working closely with the Department of Justice and Public Safety on measures to ensure something like the Dawson Funeral Home case never happens again, he said.

"This is the first time the board has had to deal with an issue like this — and government for that matter. So it's new territory for all of us."