Toronto councilor calls for change in controversial co-operative funeral model

A notable city politician questioned the fairness of a controversial policy that promises to save Toronto thousands of dollars but does not let people petition about their choice of funeral home. Councilor Dave Shiner…

Toronto councilor calls for change in controversial co-operative funeral model

A notable city politician questioned the fairness of a controversial policy that promises to save Toronto thousands of dollars but does not let people petition about their choice of funeral home.

Councilor Dave Shiner of Ward 23 Eglinton-Lawrence has brought forward a motion asking Toronto Public Health, the city and city-owned cultural organizations to support broadening options for a co-operative funeral, where people can choose whether they want their funeral caskets to be shaped to represent their personal choices.

The co-operative model has been popular in dozens of municipalities in Europe, the U.S. and Canada but has never taken off in Toronto. Currently, people who want to choose a more diverse casket can opt for a style that resembles their social or political ideology. However, Councilor Shiner says the current policy is unfair and discriminates against racial minorities.

“I believe we should not treat certain people worse than other people based on what they wear, what they believe or what they look like,” Mr. Shiner said in an interview. “It’s something that has really got into my marrow.”

If approved, the motion would seek to create a mandate for the City of Toronto Office of Equity and Diversity to convene a community dialogue on the co-operative funeral model to protect the city’s minorities.

To defend the policy, Mr. Shiner argues that there are better alternatives for funeral directors to invest in than in custom-made caskets, which make it harder for agencies to diversify their staff.

“Somebody’s coat hangs. Somebody’s gloves,” he said. “I’m really not sure how you can justify paying higher wages for a niche niche business like funeral directors on whom we’re essentially imposing these requirements.”

Councilor Shiner first voiced his concerns about the policy in April, when the Toronto Board of Health voted to approve the statement “Comparable Co-operative Burial,” which governs how funeral homes in the city handle cremation and co-operative burial.

At the time, Mr. Shiner said it would be “discriminatory” for those in Ontario’s minority communities who have to bear cultural traditions to also have to agree on a similar co-operative service, especially because funeral homes would be compelled to “limit options,” as Mr. Shiner put it, because other cities, such as Calgary, allow funeral directors to select their own caskets.

Now, Mr. Shiner’s motion would call for the city and its agencies to allow people to choose their caskets based on their personal preferences.

Mr. Shiner says he also hopes the measure would help persuade people to gravitate toward co-operative services that are affordable and diverse.

“I think those elements are the reasons that the death community is hesitating to adopt this,” he said. “And I think that if we get the program right, we’ll hopefully get a handle on the concerns.”

TMR executives did not respond to requests for comment.

Read the full story at The Globe and Mail.

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