Canada: Quebec labour minister apologizes for late death certificates - PressFrom - Canada
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Canada Quebec labour minister apologizes for late death certificates

15:45  09 october  2019
15:45  09 october  2019 Source:   montrealgazette.com

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The minister responsible for the agency that issues death certificates in Quebec apologized to the thousands of grieving families who have been forced to wait months to obtain official documents.

The staff at the civil status office are working overtime to handle a huge backlog of applications for death certificatesthat is complicating the lives of families and in many cases costing them money.

“I’m extremely preoccupied and sensitive to what the families are going through because of these delays,” Jean Boulet, minister of Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, told the Montreal Gazette. “They cannot, for example, settle the estate” of their deceased loved one, he said.

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“If I had the capacity to apologize to each of the families, I would do so. I am putting a lot of pressure on the department to make sure the situation gets back to normal as soon as possible.”

The “situation” is that processing times for death certificates are an average of 43 business days once the civil status office receives the documents required, which is more than four times the normal average processing time of 10 business days touted in the “Declaration of Services” on the government’s website.

Boulet said he was made aware of the problem a couple of weeks after he was named minister in October 2018. He put together an action plan, which included the hiring and training of 20 new employees in the civil status office. Employees are working overtime and on weekends to whittle down the backlog, which is now at 24,000 cases, Boulet said, down from a peak of 28,000.

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information about the death given in the application differs from the information in the Québec register of civil status. The following documents are required if the application is made either by mail, using the form Application for a Certificate or Copy of an Act – Death , or by using the counter service DEClic!

Boulet says the average processing time for death certificates hit a peak of 50 days on average at its worst, but was down to about 43 by mid-September. His goal is to get the backlog down to 9,000 files by the end of December, and the average waiting time to 20 business days.

Delays in receiving an official death certificate can cause all kinds of problems and extra costs for the bereaved. Families may have to pay a notary to do a will search in order to get access to the deceased’s bank account, for example. Also, selling a property is not possible without the official death certificate from the civil status office.

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“It stopped me from moving forward, from doing anything that would allow us to complete the tasks involved with liquidating my mother’s estate,” said one woman from Côte-St-Luc who contacted the Gazette after waiting four months for the certificate after her mother died on June 10.

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She finally received her mother’s death certificate on Tuesday, more than 80 working days after she sent in the documents. In the meantime, she had to cover more than $1,000 a month in condo fees on her mother’s property and was unable to start selling the furniture or show the property to perspective buyers.

“I suppose I could have shown it, but what could I say? … I had no idea when I would get the paperwork,” said the woman, who preferred her name not be used for privacy reasons.

When she finally received the death certificate, she said it was “bittersweet.” She felt the whole grieving process had been interrupted by this unnecessary bureaucratic delay.

“So, basically, we couldn’t even process it emotionally. We didn’t have that finality. We were delayed in that grieving process.”

Jane Blanchard, an Aftercare Counsellor at Kane & Fetterly Funeral Home in Snowdon, said the delays began in the summer of 2018 and have caused real stress for some families.

“We work so hard to make everything easier for the families, and then there are things like this that are out of our control,” she said, adding that sometimes families blame the funeral home for the delay. “It’s just so difficult, and I feel so bad for people.

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“We used to receive the certificates within 10 days, if all the information was correct, maximum three weeks,” she said. Around August 2018, she said, “it started to take longer and longer … it was four weeks, and then six and then we started to see 12 weeks.”

Some of her clients are still waiting for death certificates for people who died in April and May this year.

She advises families who cannot afford to wait for the death certificate to pay a notary to do a will search, which can be done with a proof of death form from the funeral home. Some banks will give the estate’s executor access to the deceased person’s bank account with a notarized will search. But property transfers cannot be done without an official death certificate from the civil status office.

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“For some people it is an urgent thing,” Blanchard said. “You can’t sell that property until you get the death certificate from the government. You can’t do anything. You can’t transfer it over to the surviving spouse.”

One of the reasons for the delays, Boulet said, was that the previous government decided to give the civil status office responsibility for five new registers, as well as management of the Quebec Firearm Registration Service. The idea was to improve efficiency, but he said the changes were made too quickly, without planning for additional staff and training that would be required in the civil status office.

Those new responsibilities, plus a number of personnel changes and staffing difficulties particular to that office, as well as the general labour shortage in Quebec, have all contributed to the slowdown, Boulet said.

The minister said he is also aware of complaints that the civil status office is not getting back to people promptly when they call to inquire about the delays, and that overworked staff members are sometimes impatient with callers.

“On a regular basis I meet with my deputy minister about this, and I make sure the instructions are very clear: civility, respect and courtesy are key words. They know I am extremely preoccupied and sensitive to the situation,” Boulet said.

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