Update: see previous posts – January 18, 2014 Benisasia Funeral Home – Toronto Address Accused of Cutting Corners On Embalmings, January 7, 2014 Benisasia Funeral Home Inc.’s Licence Suspended by Board of Funeral Services – Subject to Appeal
Benisasia Funeral Home Inc. reopened Friday, even as regulators marched on with their bid to shut it down entirely.
A GTA funeral home reopened Friday, even as regulators marched on with their bid to shut it down entirely, alleging the business scrimped on chemicals while embalming bodies and so caused them to leak fluids during funerals.
The latest allegations sparked an uproar in the Mississauga community surrounding Benisasia Funeral Home Inc., which has been steeped in controversies involving a bribe attempt by a former councillor, unpaid debts and a controversial bid to build a crematorium.
Though Benisasia is open to the public, the locks have been changed. As part of the temporary settlement agreement allowing it to stay open, the home’s owner, Prabhjot Kaur Johal, no longer oversees day-to-day operations.
Johal denies the allegations, which have not been proven. She is appealing the attempt by the provincial Board of Funeral Services to revoke the licences of Benisasia’s Mississauga and Toronto locations.
Mississauga residents expressed alarm at the allegations leveled by the board, which also accuses Benisasia of misleading investigators about where cremated remains were stored and of owing money to coroners and suppliers.
“The allegations are extremely disturbing,” said Bonnie Crombie, a Mississauga councillor whose ward includes the Derry Rd. E. funeral home.
“I’m very concerned for those families who have taken loved ones there for their final rites.”
The area’s South Asian communities have been well-served by Benisasia, according to a local Hindu priest.
“I believe that they did a good job at providing services, as far as I can see, to the community, based upon our expectations and needs,” said Pandit Roopnauth Sharma, spiritual leader of Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple up the road from Benisasia. Sharma said he could not comment on the board’s specific allegations.
The board alleges that Benisasia skimped on chemicals while embalming almost 400 bodies in 2012. Former staff told the board bodily fluids would regularly seep from the deceased — a process known as purging — during funeral services.
In her appeal documents, Johal said the funeral home has never received any complaints from bereaved families about purging. She also says she never misled investigators and that her accounts are in good standing.
“Not a single complaint for purging of bodies has come from a member of the general public,” Johal’s lawyer, Harris Rosen, said in an email. “Wouldn’t you have thought that if bodies were purging, if there were odours and bad things happening, that some patrons would have come forward?”
Johal’s documents question the credibility of one of the board’s key witnesses, a former Benisasia manager who Rosen claims is a convicted drug trafficker. The Star was unable to confirm this conviction.
“Isn’t it odd that the people coming forward are former employees of my client’s funeral homes, some or all of whom may be licensees of the board?” Rosen said.
Since the outset, the Mississauga funeral home has been the centre of a storm of disputes.
In 2000, Rick Benisasia — now Johal’s husband — deemed a legion hall the perfect property to build a funeral home.
When a crooked Mississauga councillor demanded $50,000 to rezone the land for a funeral parlour, Benisasia turned to the police. Benisasia wore a wire during clandestine meetings at which he paid the bribe with marked cash, and the politician was sent to prison for municipal corruption.
As that criminal case went on, the construction firm hired by Benisasia to renovate the hall into a funeral home took out a lien on the property in 2002, according to court documents. The firm claimed Benisasia had not paid a cent of the $2.3 million owed for the work. The lawsuit was eventually settled.
Charles and Ann Barclay, who live about 150 metres from the funeral home, have spearheaded a campaign opposing Benisasia’s bid to build a crematorium on the site. They say that effort takes on a new dimension in light of the alleged misdeeds, which include misleading inspectors about the location of cremated remains.
“Would you have these people operate the ovens?” said Ann Barclay.