Pond Inlet families 'just appalled' after loved ones delivered in 'cheap' caskets

Two families in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, are "shocked, hurt and just appalled" after they say their loved ones were delivered to the community in pressed wood caskets. 

"When I was entering the church, two sisters came to me and they were in tears when they saw their laid brother in this kind of casket that would break down if it got wet," said community member Joe Krimmerdjuar, who said the two families asked him to be a spokesperson on their behalf.

"Everybody was shocked, hurt and just appalled because they were made from pressed wood ... not plywood."

He said the pressed wood material could potentially "collapse and would be terrible." Pressed wood is a wood substitute, that can include wood scraps, shavings, sawdust and fibres combined together under heat and pressure.

They're a very, very ugly sight. - Joe Krimmerdjuar, Pond Inlet community member

Krimmerdjuar said the two people died in Iqaluit while on medical travel, and were flown up to the community earlier this month. One of the deceased was Ludy Pudluk, a Nunavut elder and former N.W.T. MLA.

Krimmerdjuar said families told him there was no consultation as for the type of caskets the families wanted.

Nick Murray/CBC

He said instead, the funeral home sent a casket with "the cheapest material that could be found."

"They're a very, very ugly sight," said Krimmerdjuar. "There was no respect shown at all to the family."

Krimmerdjuar said he hopes this doesn't happen again for anyone else in the community whose relatives dies while in Iqaluit. 

"It's very hurtful. It makes you angry when you see your loved ones put into these kinds of caskets."

Government covers 'most economic casket'

Jaffar Gebara, funeral director in Iqaluit, confirmed he got a call from a family about the pressed wood caskets.

"They were quite upset," said Gebara.

Gebara said the caskets made of plywood would double the price. The difference between the two types are in the texture and appearance, said Gebara. The cost difference is about a thousand dollars.

I'm very upset that they didn't receive what they thought they should have. - Jaffar Gebara, Iqaluit funeral director

"What's covered by the government is what I can only offer. I can't pay out of pocket to provide [plywood caskets]," said Gebara, who added there is no profit margin for providing this service.

Gebara said for people who die while under the government's medical travel services, he had always used pressed wood caskets. This is the first complaint about the caskets in the ten years he's been working as the director, he said.

Under the government of Nunavut's burial coverage, it states the remains will be prepared with "the most economic casket."

CBC News contacted the Nunavut Department of Health but had not received a response by publication time.

CBC

Gebara said he was confused and also upset because of how the caskets affected the families.

"I'm very upset that they didn't receive what they thought they should have," he said. 

"To give the people what they want is very difficult. And the support that I have with the government is there, but not what I would like to see."

Gebara said he will try to look at ways to make the situation better. He said he will bring this complaint to the government's attention.

"I hope that I didn't further add any more stress to the families who are upset. I apologize."