BAO achievements in 2022 mean greater consumer protection for families in 2023

Year In Review

We have a great foundation of consumer-protection improvements to build on in 2023, thanks to the efforts of our staff and the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO) Board of Directors.

The last 12 months marked a new start for the BAO because we made great progress on key business plan objectives.

We have a new strategically aligned inspection strategy to prioritize inspections based on an assessment of risk of harm to consumers, and have expanded the rigour of licensing compliance in the public interest and to support our licensees, including small cemeteries.

Our licensing and financial compliance departments have especially been providing guidance to volunteers and staff at small cemeteries in the completion of their legally required Annual Licensure Reports and in the management of their Care and Maintenance Funds. It’s detailed work that results in greater compliance and protection of the longevity of cemeteries for families everywhere in the province.

COVID safety

We also continued to protect grieving families and bereavement sector staff by adapting quickly during the pandemic, which was followed by the easing of restrictions in mid-March.

Thanks to the commitment of the BAO and its licensees, COVID-19 outbreaks stemming from funeral services were very rare among family attendees and bereavement sector staff members throughout the pandemic measures that started in 2020.

It took a lot of focus and commitment to achieve that.

Professionals at funeral homes, transfer services, cemeteries, crematoriums and alkaline hydrolysis facilities followed provincial regulations and Registrar’s Directives rigorously to make that happen, for which we thank them.

BAO expanded and improved its regulatory oversight

We took heed of sound and detailed government recommendations in addition to our own plans for constant improvement.

Throughout 2021 and 2022, our staff and BAO Board of Directors worked on accomplishing the 51 action items required to address the Office of the Auditor General (AG) of Ontario’s 20 recommendations in its Value-for-Money Audit of the BAO.

86% score

On Nov. 29, 2022, the results of our team’s ongoing professional commitment paid off with the AG marking 86 per cent of the recommendations as fully implemented or in the process of being implemented.

The AG Follow-Up report stated that the action items are:

  • 86 per cent – Fully implemented, or in the process of being implemented
    • Of that 86 per cent, 57 per cent are fully implemented and 29 per cent are in the process of being implemented
  • 5 per cent – Little or no progress
  • 5 per cent – No longer applicable
  • 4 per cent – Will not be implemented

Overall Conclusion

The AG wrote in the Overall Conclusion of its Follow-Up:

“The Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery and the Bereavement Authority have fully implemented recommendations such as

  • Standardizing the price lists among all licensed operators, including identifying what services are required by law and what is optional,
  • Conducting unannounced inspections and mystery shopper visits,
  • Conducting performance reviews, at least annually, for each inspector,
  • Crosschecking the listing of Environmental Compliance Approvals maintained by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to ensure that the listing is complete, and
  • Verifying that all Class 1 licensed funeral homes possess a current hazardous waste generator number.”

Fully implemented

Other excerpts of fully implemented actions in AG Follow-Up report include:

  • Recommendation 1 – “To protect consumers when making bereavement-related purchases, we recommend that the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services work with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario to develop effective strategies to increase the transparency of price information to consumers (such as requiring all licensed operators to provide their price lists online as well as an electronic copy or a link to the Bereavement Authority’s consumer information guide), and determine where it will be necessary as a result to amend legislation and/or regulations.”
  • Recommendation 2 – “To protect consumers when making bereavement-related purchases, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario: standardize the presentation of price lists among all licensed operators, such as for a basic cremation service, other services and products and clearly identify whether each of them is required by law and in what circumstances, or if they are optional;”
  • Recommendation 4 – “To protect consumers’ money deposited in care and maintenance funds maintained by cemeteries for upkeep of the cemeteries, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario: make arrangements with all trustees of cemeteries to obtain access or disclosure of trustee statements directly from them;”
  • Recommendation 5 – “To protect consumer funds held in trust by funeral homes and transfer services, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario perform inspections or impose conditions or other appropriate consequences, if funeral homes or transfer services do not file reports on prepaid funds within 90 days after their fiscal year end, or fail to take timely action to correct any deficiencies identified.”
  • Recommendation 6 – “To protect consumers through its inspection efforts, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario use the analyses from its inspection results to establish an annual inspection plan that targets high-risk areas for inspection, and specifies the percentage of inspections to be reactive versus proactive, and how inspections are prioritized based on risk, urgency and severity of potential non-compliance.”
  • Recommendation 9 – “To assess the sufficiency of caseloads and to improve the quality of work done by inspectors.”  
  • Recommendation 12 – “To effectively address any large-scale death event such as a natural disaster or non-natural event, we recommend that the Office of the Chief Coroner, working with the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (Bereavement Authority), revisit the Provincial Mass Fatality Plan and incorporate any key information, inputs and lessons learned from the provincial response to the COVID-19 pandemic by the Bereavement Authority.”
  • Recommendation 13 – “To carry out its licensing regulatory role, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario take the necessary action to require all transfer service providers to be licensed across the province.”
  • Recommendation 18 – “To implement appropriate provincewide inspection processes and coverage of the bereavement sector, we recommend that the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (Bereavement Authority): consult and collaborate with local public health units and the Ministry of Labour to re-examine the purposes and necessity of various inspections.”
  • Recommendation 19.1 – “To improve the oversight of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (Bereavement Authority) and increase consumer representation, we recommend that the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services work with the Bereavement Authority to: increase public awareness of the Bereavement Authority;”
  • Recommendation 20 – “To improve the Board oversight of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario with a mandate to protect consumers, we recommend the Board of directors: regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the Bereavement Authority in achieving its mandate by obtaining and reviewing complete, accurate and up to date information to make informed decisions.”

(The full Nov. 30, 2022 AG Follow-Up report is available on our website.)

Fee increase

To achieve AG recommendations for an expanded role, and the associated resources required, we plan to increase our licensee fees accordingly.

It will be only our second fee increase since the BAO started operating in 2016.

Thanks to staff, board, licensees, government

Making these improvements has required new policies, processes and 14 additional staff members bringing our total current complement to 36.

The BAO thanks its staff team for our collective progress and for their focused efforts as we continue on our path of constant improvement. We also thank our dedicated BAO Board of Directors for their guidance and support.

Plus, thank you to our licensees, who continue to prove themselves as highly adaptive professionals serving families in their times of great personal loss.

Collaboration and consultation with our partners at the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery has been greatly appreciated again this year.

In 2023, we look forward to building on our work of protecting grieving families, the public interest and supporting our licensees. Happy New Year.