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History of Regulatory Reform

A History of the Family Funeralhome Association

Recognizing the need in the late 1970s, the Family Funeralhome Association (FFA) was founded by professionals concerned about maintaining adequate consumer protection. Today the FFA is a registered non-profit society, with its head office in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and affiliates or chapters in Canada, the US and Australia. The FFA has made regulatory recommendations to the Competition Bureau of Canada, Canada’s Federal Government, Provincial Governments, the US Federal Trade Commission, Bar Associations and numerous regional regulators.

Background

1960’s and 70’s – Funeral consolidation began to take shape as several aggressive consolidators began a buying spree of family owned funeral homes in the US and abroad, capturing 20% of the North American market by the late 1990’s.

1980’s – The national funeral chains began to focus on marketing pre-arranged funerals. This practice became much easier where the chains could gain access to local cemetery records to get the names and addresses of plot owners. Claiming to update plot records access could easily be gained to plot owner’s households where then commissioned sales people could try to sell the survivors pre-paid funerals.

- Sophisticated consolidator funeral chain lobbies were also able to shape much of the ensuing funeral regulations in the 42 states and eight provinces allowing funeral homes in cemeteries.

A Chronology of Association Efforts to Improve Funeral Service Regulations

- The Family Funeralhome Association (FFA), an ad-hoc group founded to promote consumer advocacy and public education, began working with caregivers to educate the public and build support for opposing bad laws.

- In the late 1980’s, FFA founder Tom Crean formally brought certain questionable solicitation practices used by international funeral consolidators on the elderly to the attention of regulators, the B.C. Seniors Association and the Consumer’s Association of Canada.

1990’s – The FFA began working with a broader cross section of consumer groups, healthcare professionals, and clergy offering in-service seminars and resources both to help improve care for the bereaved and to educate the public and regulators on the need to improve regulations.

- While hiring “find-for-a-fee” commissioned sales people allowed the national funeral chains to greatly increase their sales coverage it placed enormous competitive pressure on small businesses and the non-profit cemetery community, forcing many smaller funeral homes to sell out.

1991 – B.C. finally passed a law banning direct (telephone or door-to-door) solicitation of the public by funeral and/or cemetery companies.

1994 – The FFA discovered that the largest funeral consolidator Service Corporation International (SCI) of Houston, Texas, was trying to trademark a name that had the clear potential to deceive the public. The name ‘Family Funeral Care’, used in conjunction with the name of the previous owner (ie: JONES FAMILY Funeral Care), could easily be used to confuse the public, giving an impression the publicly traded funeral conglomerate’s chapels were ‘family owned’.

1995 – The city of Vancouver received a proposal to privatize the management of the City’s only non-profit cemetery. Loewen Group, the second largest consolidator, had offered to take over the management. The FFA sent letters out to 500 organizations and individuals decrying this proposal. Newspapers and TV began doing stories and 75 organizations came forward in support of the FFA’s bid to keep Mountain View ‘not-for-profit’. With the support of the Jewish, Chinese, Japanese. and Russian communities, combined with the United, Anglican, Pentecostal, Salvation Army and Catholic Churches, the FFA organized and shared the cost of preparing a community proposal to compete with Loewen.

1996 – On May 16, the City of Vancouver declined the Loewen Group proposal and accepted the FFA and it’s community’s proposal.

- In September of that year, licensing of personnel and facilities was finally brought into law, but the national funeral chains by then had already acquired over 75% of the B.C. funeral service providers.

- The FFA also filed three trademark oppositions against mis-descriptive (deceptive) trademark filings made by SCI.

1997 – The FFA was asked formally to submit a request for regulatory reform to the Province of British Columbia. Chief among the FFA’s requests were:

1) Mandatory disclosure of national funeral chain ownership of local funeral homes – now law

2) Mandatory disclosure of real address where funeral service providers actually operated from – now law

3) A ban on the solicitation of plot owners by funeral homes located in cemeteries – now law

1998 – As part of FFA’s trademark opposition against SCI, 15,000 requests for evidence were mailed to family owned funeral homes across North America asking for evidence and examples of where the national funeral consolidators were using confusing marketing information to appear like locally owned family businesses. The evidence received filled five affidavits, which laying down stood seven inches thick.

1999 – The FFA was asked by the Consumer Affairs Commission of the City of New York to provide evidence in support of their regulatory recommendations. The FFA’s recommendations were accepted and mandatory disclosure of national funeral chain ownership became law in the state of New York.

- The FFA filed a complaint to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission against Service Corporation International advertising itself in certain regions as “Affiliated Family Funeral Homes”.

- In October the FFA addressed the Canadian Bar Association – Wills and Estates Division and expressed their concerns about the current lack of national regulations in funeral service. Chief among the concerns of the Canadian Bar Association Wills and Estates Division was “Tied-selling” between funeral homes and cemeteries, actually a violation of the Criminal Code of Canada.

- In November the FFA Chair addressed the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and raised the same concerns about the concentration of ownership and tied selling between funeral homes and cemeteries where they were allowed to be located together.

2000 – In September the FFA was invited to participate in the Public Policy Forum review of the Canadian Competition Act. Nine recommendations were made under the aims of Bill C-402 sponsored by MP Dan McTeague, dealing with the “abuse of dominance” in the retail sector. The Bill was in response to consumer concerns about markets dominated by a few big players. The FFA urged the federal government not to allow history to keep repeating itself on these issues, declaring it was vital to give equal weight to the views of all Canadians.

2001 – March 6, the province of B.C. adopted the three primary recommendations of the FFA from 1997 making them law. In May 2001 Consumer Reports Magazine reported that Family-owned local Independent funeral homes… “on average offered funerals for $2,000 less than the big national chains.” In the Vancouver market where the average service is roughly $2,000, that would make SCI 100% more expensive, but Vancouver is an unusual market. It is 80% consolidated or “conglomerate-owned”.

- The FFA attended the bankruptcy hearings of the Loewen Group explaining to the creditors that the company was worth considerably more broken up and sold back to individual operators. These recommendations were ignored in the Wilmington procedures.

- In December 1991 allegations were filed against SCI for exhuming clients and discarding the remains of clients in a neighbouring swamp, and reselling graves. Criminal charges were filed.

2002 – The FFA gained the support of about 3,500 family owned funeral homes at their Canadian Trademark Commission Hearing on whether SCI should be awarded the trademark “Family Funeral Care”. On April 23, the Canadian Trademark Office found in favor of the FFA opposition, and denied SCI their trademark registration.

- In May the FFA is approached by a number of the healthcare, religious, caregiver groups and asked to start a new public education vehicle (a group that did not include the word funeral in its name). After several focus groups were organized and research done, the PARTNERS IN CARE ALLIANCE (PICA) was announced and within a year completed 200 presentations to nursing homes, hospitals, consumer groups, seniors groups and churches.

2003 – In June the Order of the Golden Rule Association, and the Independent Funeral Directors Associat5ions of Florida, Indiana, Georgia, Michigan, Maryland, Maine, New York, and Virginia all announced their joining the FFA’s US Trademark Opposition against SCI’s attempt to register “Family Funeral Care” in the United States, establishing the ‘Prevent SCI’s Trademark Fund’ or ‘PST Fund’, and organizing fund-raising support to help with extensive legal costs. In June SCI declined to defend its USA Trademark Registration against FFA’s Opposition. In July SCI threatened to sue PICA over faulty research.

- PICA responded that it welcomed the opportunity to defend its research in any venue SCI chose (because the publicity would bring much needed attention to the issues) but thought a live television debate on inadequate funeral regulation would be far more useful to the public (no response so far).

2004 – In April the Florida Courts dropped the criminal charges against SCI because a criminal conviction might result in the insurance company not paying the victims of their malpractice.

- A new B.C. consumer regulatory organization, the Business Practice and Consumer Protection Authority (BPCPA) was introduced.

2005 – Funding for the new BC regulatory authority was introduced late in the year.

- Great news in September in the ‘Financial Post’, which reports that SCI has ‘Buried it’s Hard Sell Approach’. Mr. Crean responds to the editor.

2006 – The FFA has each year expressed their deep frustration with the fact that as yet neither the law requiring funeral home ownership or the law requiring disclosure of location are being enforced.

- BC Business covered the Independent FFA Campaign

- Frank Stewart was invited to be keynote speaker at the Catholic Cemetery Association Convention held in Vancouver B.C., Canada that year.  Mr. Crean wrote an open letter challenging Mr. Stewart’s position on consolidators partnering with the Church communities, especially with respect to offering to build funeral homes in their Church-owned cemeteries.

2007 – Presentations and tours to healthcare workers, colleges and faith communities continue in effort to raise awareness over vital reforms required to ensure a healthy regulatory environment.

2008 – Globe & Mail Report on Small Business covers the FFA Campaign, and the Kearney Family Business

- The FFA and the Partners in Care Alliance (PICA) arrange first faith luncheon to begin to build a faith based taskforce to finally complete the reforms required to create a healthy funeral service regulatory environment.  Work is begun to seek the donation of the Pickton farm as a new Vancouver Multi-faith Community Cemetery.