VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - A former funeral home owner has been charged with fraud for allegedly giving families cremated ashes that were not the remains of their loved ones, Canadian police said on Wednesday.
Police began investigating a defunct funeral home in Princeton, British Columbia, in 2006 after receiving complaints from families in the small town, who said they believed they had received -- and in some cases buried -- the wrong cremated remains.
The families discovered the problem when contacted by another funeral home that had received 56 urns of cremated human remains from the Princeton-Similkameen Funeral Services after it shut down in 2005 for operating without a license.
The urns were labeled as being unclaimed by the families who had paid for cremations and thought they already had the ashes. Police spent 19 months investigating the case and determining which remains went to which family.
The former funeral home's owner has been charged with 34 counts of fraud, and two counts each of neglect of duty and "offering an indignity" to human remains, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said.
Most of the 56 urns have been reunited with the proper families, but some still remain unclaimed.
"We don't know if that's because there aren't any family members around any more to claim them or what," said RCMP Constable Julie Rattee. "It's a tragic case."
Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Peter Galloway