The handling and transfer of the deceased in Ontario

by Rochelle Martin

Recently a Toronto coroner’s office refused to release the body of a deceased son to his parents, insisting that a funeral director had to pick up the body.  The family, forced to hire a funeral director in order to claim their son’s body, had to wait to bring his body home until a willing funeral home reopened after the weekend.

Additionally, this coroner’s office seemed preoccupied with the need for a “pick-up permit” – a form that funeral directors provide when they pick up a body.  Death midwifery advocates, knowing that families have the legal right to claim, transport, and care for their loved ones after death, initially considered how this “pick-up form” might be modified for families’ use.

However, in thinking this through, it suddenly became clear that funeral directors require this “pick up permit” to demonstrate to a coroner’s office or other health care facility that they have been given the right to claim the body, by the next of kin.  The next of kin, having primary rights to the body, does not require such a form.  The next of kin need only present the medical certificate of death, after it has been provided to them by a physician or coroner.

In Ontario, the next of kin may pick up the body of their deceased loved one from any coroner’s office or health care facility without a transport or burial permit.  While some provinces require a transport permit, or have regulations about the type of container and vehicle in which a dead body must be transported, Ontario does not.  The handling and transfer of human remains must be done in a dignified and respectful manner, but there are no specifications in Ontario law regarding particular containers, vehicles, or methods in which a body must be transported.

It is also important to note that coroners or health care facility personnel may not refuse the next of kin access to their loved one’s  body out of paternalistic concern for such things as “family wellbeing” or “protocol.”  Those who have concerns about a family’s ability to respectfully transport and care for the deceased have no recourse but to call the police, if they suspect nefarious intent.  Regardless of their thoughts, feelings, or opinions on the matter, they must release the body to the next of kin.

It is legal, in most provinces of Canada,* to care for our loved ones’ bodies ourselves, without a funeral director. (*Quebec has recently passed a law that may limit families’ rights – the implications of this law for family-directed after-death care are currently being explored.)  The fact that a funeral director might say we can’t, or a hospital or coroner’s office might balk at releasing a body to next of kin, or a city clerk’s office may never have had a family member fill out a statement of death form – none of these mean we can’t.  We must insist, perhaps suggesting that the onus is on them to consult their legal counsel, who will advise that they may not refuse.  A hospital or coroner’s office risks being sued, if they do not comply with the law and release a body to the next of kin.

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  1. Nate Woods  January 16, 2018

    I’m a funeral director in Ontario; I don’t know of any funeral homes “closed” for the weekend, never mind even one night. Most funeral homes provide a 24 hour service and are reachable directly over the phone or through an answering service. If you call a funeral home and they are closed and you need help, move on to the next funeral home.

    • tucker  March 9, 2019

      Can a non-licensed clergy bury a dead body?

  2. Sandra Brown  February 13, 2020

    Sandra daughter of deceased
    A funeral parlour picked up a body ( in Ontario ) without written permission from anyone ? An appointment time had been set for the family .. can they be sued ? Also , they asked family of deceased to pay for body transport . Why was body even released from hospital with no permission or knowledge of the family . The appointment was set as a consultation , never having dealt with death of a loved one. Very distressing .

    • Cheryl  April 4, 2020

      Sandra, I have exactly the same question. I was very distressed that my mom was picked up and brought to the funeral home without my permission to do so. I had set an appointment just for a consultation.

  3. Distraught  November 4, 2020

    We have a “next of kin” issue and am wondering if anyone has an answer. My brother has passed away, and his children who are over 18 are considered his next of kin. My brother is sitting in the morgue. They have made no attempt to make any final arrangements, are ignoring our calls and texts and are continuing on with their daily life as if nothing has happened. We (me, sister & mother) have tried to make the final arrangements but the funeral home says we must have a form filled out with their consent allowing us to proceed. They are refusing to sign the letter. Need all the help we can get!! Does anyone have an answer?

  4. Brad  July 8, 2021

    Actually there is a law stating that only “licensed” funeral directors can transport/move/pick-up a deceased body after a specific time period from the pronounced time of death. This is to control the spread of possible disease onto any other person or thing.

    • Jemma Fong  July 11, 2021

      The law you are referring to does not apply to next of kin – it was a
      clarification made recently by the BAO to regulate funeral transport
      service operators who were practicing without licenses. It applies to
      anyone offering transportation services for dead bodies, who *is not*
      next of kin. The next of kin has primary right and obligation to
      transport the body after death – if they choose, the next of kin may
      sign over this obligation to a licensed funeral services provider.

      Re. your comment about personal/public health risk of transporting
      dead bodies:
      only in rare circumstances do dead bodies pose a risk of contagion.
      There are specific requirements under Communicable Diseases general
      regulation 557 ( on
      handling corpses of a deceased person who was confirmed or suspected
      as having and/or was isolated for having one of the following
      infectious agents:
      1. Anthrax.
      2. Ebola virus disease.
      3. Haemorrhagic fevers.
      4. Lassa fever.
      5. Marburg virus disease.
      6. Plague.
      7. Smallpox.
      As you will note, reading that list, most deaths do not involve these
      infectious agents, and therefor, most dead bodies pose no health risk
      to those transporting the body. Transmission of infection requires
      the presence of an infectious agent, exposure to that agent, and a
      susceptible host… The human body is host to many organisms, only
      some of which are pathogenic. When the body dies, the environment in
      which pathogens live can no longer sustain them. Microorganisms
      involved in the decay process (putrefaction) are not pathogenic…
      –Pan American Health Organization


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