Ash scattering: what are the legal formalities?

Published on February 10, 2017

  • Cremation

Last year, in an effort to better support ash scattering, the Quebec government modified Law 66, which had been unchanged since 1974. This law pertained to funeral services and in particular, dispersing ashes. Quebec intends to follow improvements in the world of funeral services to better protect the public in this delicate field.

What changes have been introduced with this new law?
Law 66, effective February 17, 2016, provides that the funeral service providers must remit a deceased’s ashes to a single person in one or more rigid containers. When ashes are buried or dispersed, the specific location must be recorded in the funeral service provider’s registry of funeral activities. Article 71, which stipulates that “no one may disperse human ashes in a location where they could constitute a nuisance, or in a manner that disrespects the deceased’s dignity”, leaves a great deal of freedom to the family. Lastly, Article 72 states that “anyone who buries or disperses human ashes must provide the funeral service provider responsible for the body the location where the ashes were buried or dispersed for registration in that provider’s burial register”.

By changing the 40-year old law, Quebec is now firmly in line with modernizing funeral practices. The new law in fact provides very broad possibilities and allows a deceased’s ashes to be spread according to their wishes or, failing that, according to the family as long as it does not present a danger to public health.

What are the formalities to follow before spreading ashes?

If the funeral urn cannot be kept at home, there are many ways to disperse the deceased’s ashes, but Quebec law does not provide any more details than those written in Articles 71 and 72. Ashes can be placed in a biodegradable urn made of paper maché or cornstarch in order to dissolve in a body of water and allow the ashes to be dispersed.

No matter how the ashes will be spread, this ritual involves very strong symbolic and emotional meaning, and it must comply with municipal regulations. You should check these before spreading ashes in a park or any other public place. In addition, dispersing ashes on private property like a golf course or similar property requires permission.

Unfortunately, most Quebec cities don’t publish the applicable local regulations online or any formalities to follow. For example, Montreal simply specifies that there is no policy at the Botanical Gardens governing dispersal of mortuary ashes on the site. It is also recommended to consult with a funeral director, crematorium or a city cemetery before spreading a deceased’s ashes. These experts can provide assistance in this kind of undertaking. You can also get information from the Direction des ententes de gestion et d’imputabilité et des relations institutionnelles at the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (Department of Health and Social Services)

In the meantime, crematoriums and funeral homes will temporarily put the ashes in safekeeping to allow the family time to decide what to do with a deceased loved one’s remains in the event they have not left a will.

With 80% of Quebecers now opting for cremation, there’s a strong likelihood that the topic of dispersing ashes will return to the focus of debate in the near future, particularly when it comes to tracking the location of ashes.

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