A year of challenges and an opportunity to envision the future…

BAO Annual Report 2020/21

On behalf of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) it is my pleasure to introduce this year’s Annual Report, which highlights the BAO’s activities and efforts to fulfill our mandate to protect consumers through regulatory oversight of all funeral, transfer, burial, cremation, and alternative disposition services in Ontario.

The year began similar to previous years. As an organization we continued to improve service levels for consumers and licensees alike. We looked forward to entering the final year of our Strategic Plan and to accomplishing the remaining outstanding objectives to increase consumer awareness of the BAO, enhance educational requirements and standards for licensees, and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our inspections and compliance methods.

But as the fiscal year unfolded, the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading throughout the world. As illnesses and death rates began to rise in Ontario, the funeral bereavement sector the public so often takes for granted as being there when needed but rarely talked about took on another dimension.

Funeral directors, cemetery and crematorium operators became essential frontline workers prepared to support the public at a most unfortunate and critical time in their lives.

Leadership and guidance

While staff adjusted to working remotely from home, the BAO Registrar assumed a leading role in providing guidance to all bereavement sector licensees. Working in partnership with the Chief Coroner of Ontario, an Expedited Death Response (EDR) system was developed to assist Ontario hospitals, retirement and long-term care homes.

Funeral homes adjusted staffing and hours of operation to accommodate the changing conditions. Cemeteries extended their hours of operation from sunrise to sunset.

Crematoriums trained additional staff to operate cremation equipment, prepared to operate on a 24/7 basis if required. Restrictions on the number of visitors who could attend a funeral service, graveside burial, or cremation witnessing were established to prevent community spread and contract tracing was introduced at all locations.

At the time of writing (May 18, 2021), more than 8,500 Ontarians have died from COVID-19 over a 15-month period. The BAO and the bereavement sector continue to support Ontario’s consumers and wish to express our sincerest condolences to those who have experienced a personal loss during these trying circumstances.

Audit welcomed

While much of the BAO’s focus centred on serving Ontario’s consumers during the pandemic, the Auditor General of Ontario was completing a thorough audit of several of Ontario’s delegated administrative authorities, including the BAO.

The Board of Directors welcomed the audit as it provided an opportunity for an independent professional assessment of our operations. The Value-For-Money audit made several recommendations and observed that “there is a need to strengthen consumer protection and enforcement measures within the bereavement sector.”

The BAO has worked closely with the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services to develop a comprehensive action implementation management plan (AIM) to address all Auditor General recommendations. AIM plans are well underway to establish a risk based operational framework that will enhance consumer protection.

Efforts to re-engineer the BAO staffing model to increase the organization’s capacity and ability to track and respond to consumer issues in a timely fashion have been put in place. To complement the new risk-based framework, the BAO has also started work on customizing software and artificial intelligence data that will reduce manual tracking and improve reporting capabilities. The Board of Directors looks forward to this fall when we will develop a new five-year Strategic Plan that will guide future BAO business plans and initiatives.

Thank you Minister and government

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Minister of Government and Consumer Services Lisa Thompson for her ongoing support. Throughout the pandemic Minister Thompson made it a point to regularly check in to see if there was anything the government could do to assist, and always made herself available and accessible. Thank you also to Ministry of Government and Consumer Services staff who have worked closely with BAO staff to develop the AIM program.

Thank you licensees, BAO Registrar and staff

I would be remiss if I did not thank all Ontario bereavement sector licensees, who have made countless personal sacrifices to provide the highest levels of service to Ontario’s consumers throughout the past 15 months.

Finally, and by no means least, I would like to take this opportunity to thank CEO/Registrar Carey Smith and an amazingly dedicated BAO team for not missing a beat and continuing to serve Ontario’s consumers remotely.

Despite the challenges faced by the BAO throughout the past year the Board of Directors has a feeling of anticipation and optimism when looking to the future.

While there is some disappointment that we did not accomplish all our business plan objectives, we are cognisant of the extraneous circumstances and proud of the important leadership role the BAO has played during the past year.

The foundations have been laid for the future, a future that will see the BAO transform into a more robust delegated administrative authority with enhanced consumer protection and regulatory oversight capacity.

(Read the BAO Annual Report 2020/21 here.)