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Int. CEO/Registrar – BAO progressing to become a more effective, modern bereavement regulator

By Jim Cassimatis,
Interim CEO/Registrar, BAO

Interim CEO/Registrar’s message 

The next year will be an ambitious one for us at the Bereavement Authority of Ontario (BAO).

Thankfully, board, management and staff at the BAO have made the most of 2023 setting a foundation for progress on our path to become a more effective, modern regulator for grieving families – the consumers of the bereavement sector.

As the 2023 calendar year draws to a close, I’m looking back on what we accomplished and learned to set us up for 2024 and beyond.

To be an effective regulator, an organization needs the right staff and resources. We have great staff and we’re working on having the appropriate resources and tools. 

During the last year, the BAO started on a path toward greater effectiveness and modernization. The BAO had, for its first several years, been under resourced in terms of staffing and technology.

Implementing 46, or 90 per cent, of the Office of the Auditor General of Ontario’s 51 BAO recommended action items has been a good start for us.


We knew that achieving those action items also meant we needed a significant increase to our licensing fees, from which we are wholly funded.

So, we started 2023 by making sure we would be appropriately funded to meet and sustain the regulatory demands of a growing population and the BAO’s expanded role – as necessitated by recommendations of the Auditor General.

Last winter, we informed the Ministry of Public and Business Services Delivery, consumers and our 9,500 business and personal licensees of our proposed increase to regulatory fees. It all became official in May with the announcement of the fee increase that started going into effect last July for the 2024 licensing year.

Thanks to the increased fee, we can maintain our staff expansion of 10 positions in 2022, which grew the BAO to 38 skilled employees. That increase in staff still makes us one of the smallest regulators in Ontario.


The increased fees are also needed for the development of our new information technology system, replacing one dating to the early 1990s under the BAO’s predecessor organization, the Board of Funeral Services.

The BAO will become even more effective next year for the public, licensed businesses and professionals thanks to the implementation of the new system, which we’ve named OBIS – Ontario Bereavement Information System.

I thank our staff, led by our Information Technology team, for the overall planning and executing the work required to develop OBIS.

From electronic inspection reports and improved tracking and analysis, to sharing bereavement sector data with BAO licensees and the public – OBIS will provide the tools required to better serve everyone.

The new system will organize the BAO’s expanded services, while tracking progress, licensee compliance and other data analytics.

It will start replacing our archaic system in the new year and is planned to go-live in April.

Among the improvements, OBIS will:

  • Standardize and optimize BAO’s business processes to meet and exceed its consumer protection mandate
  • Promote modernization through improved online services for the public, who may access the BAO Public Registry of all licensees
  • Share analytical data with licensees and the public
  • Enable risk-based, technology-enabled compliance activity, rather than a more reactionary inspections approach arising largely from complaints
  • Build credibility with the sector through accurate data modelling and reporting
  • Align and deliver detailed corporate planning, performance, statistical and reporting requirements as outlined in the BAO’s Administrative Agreement with the ministry
  • Increase BAO responsiveness to external audits and amendments to internal controls, including those from the ministry
  • Protect against data breaches and cyber security threats
  • Parse data regionally and provincially in categories including –
    • Trends in numbers of deaths responded to by funeral directors, establishments and transfer services
    • Increases and decreases in numbers of licensed professionals and businesses
    • Changes in the number of burials, cremations and hydrolysis compared to previous years
    • Inspection outcomes data
    • Numbers of new and all current service providers

Consumer protection

As all of that work on OBIS proceeds, we still do our day jobs.

The BAO has had a concentrated year of consumer protection actions resulting in compliance with the law by outliers among our licensed professionals.

Our primary purpose as the bereavement sector authority is consumer protection. That term can rankle some licensees as it begs the question: Protection from what?

I can tell you that despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of licensees follow the rules and are caring professionals, there is a continued need for consumer protection simply to safeguard grieving families at a vulnerable time in their lives.

When you’re the regulator it’s the less than one per cent of licensees who take up most of your time and resources. The outliers do not represent the sector, that’s for sure.

During the last 12 months, we have initiated consumer protection actions including:  

  • Requiring a cemetery to stop charging additional fees on interment rights that have already been paid for in full  
  • Ordering a business to stop advertising funeral services without a licence   
  • Refusing licence renewal of a personal and business licensee operating inconsistently with the intention and objective of the law, the Funeral, Burial and Cremation Services Act, 2022. (A licence is required to be in business in the sector.)
  • Ordering two cemeteries to cease operations – one as a result of the cemetery not establishing the legally required Care and Maintenance Fund, which helps ensure long-term upkeep of a cemetery, and the other for not being licensed  
  • Ordering funeral homes to cease operations – one for not filing its legally required annual licensure report, and the other for not renewing its licence  
  • Ordering a township to cease operating a cemetery for not filing its reports for the Care and Maintenance Fund and annual licensure  

Funeral director shortage

As the interim CEO/Registrar, I’ve chosen to participate in a sector discussion of long and short-term measures needed to address a persistent problem – too few funeral directors in parts of Ontario.

It’s a vital issue, in my view, that the regulator be part of a broader solution.

Northwestern Ontario and other parts of the province do not have the number of funeral directors (FDs) that families in their communities need. I’ve responded to concerns from our licensees on this subject and have been working with them and other key stakeholders, such as colleges and professional associations.

I’ve made presentations to the associations’ members and their leaders, met with individual FDs and with representatives of current colleges offering FD programs and others which have explored establishing their programs in Ontario.

I have also written blogs in our LifeLine newsletter for licensees, our consumer magazine Beyond, plus in trade publications. In my blogs I have voiced support for possible solutions such as: more online and hybrid college education; having more colleges in more locations offering FD programs in addition to Humber in Toronto and Collège Boréal in Sudbury; apprenticeships in funeral homes; continuing to recognize qualifications of FDs in other North American jurisdictions; and the pros and cons of an option to have unlicensed ‘funeral ceremony associates’ provide unlicensed services in order to free up funeral directors to do work requiring an FD licence.


In the last year, the BAO has also taken back the approval of continuing education (CE) courses, replacing a sector committee that had been reviewing individual offerings for approval. Now we are responsible for it directly and provide current offerings on our new CE webpage.

We have also provided additional resources to our licensees including a new Policy, Procedures, Guidelines section, and FAQs for licensees and consumers all available in our new Licensee Resource Hub.

Thank you

The law, regulations and the BAO’s regulatory role demand a lot from licensed businesses and individual licensees. They consistently deliver for families across the province.

I thank the professionals we license in funeral homes, cemeteries, crematoriums, transfer services and alkaline hydrolysis facilities, who diligently serve families during the most challenging of times in their lives.

I thank all in the bereavement sector for their co-operation, collaboration, insight and patience that they have shown me in my role as interim CEO/Registrar since last December. Their willingness to state their support and criticism in an open and constructive way has made an impression on me at conferences, in a variety of meetings and emails with them.

I thank our diligent and dedicated staff members for their commitment, which they bring to work every day. There is no BAO without them!

It has also been my pleasure to get to know and work with our BAO Board of Directors, who have provided me with valuable leadership and guidance. I thank them all.

I thank our collaborative government partners at the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery for working with me and the management team throughout the year.

I wish you all the best in the new year.

(Read the Chair of the BAO Board of Directors’ year-end message here.)