A Deloraine family seeks to have the body of a Manitoba man exhumed after winning a court battle proving they are the rightful owners of the cemetery land in which he was mistakenly buried.
In a written decision released last week, Queen’s Bench Judge Shawn Greenberg ruled that the family of Isobel and Lloyd Combs are the legal owners of two plots at Del-Win Cemetery that the Rural Municipality mistakenly resold to Daniel Griffith’s family.
With the legal title to the plots decided, Greenberg’s decision paves the way for a request to the provincial Minister of Health to order that Griffith’s body be exhumed.
“That exact set of circumstances has never been decided in Canada.”
— Lawyer John Stewart
“That specific set of circumstances has never been decided in Canada,” said attorney John Stewart, speaking on behalf of the Combs family.
“It’s an unfortunate set of circumstances,” Stewart said. “No one gets any joy out of it, including the RM.”
Pam Hainsworth, chief executive of the Rural Municipality of Deloraine-Winchester, declined to comment Wednesday.
“I have received the decision, but it has not been reviewed by council and will only be reviewed tonight behind closed doors,” Hainsworth said. “The issue is quite sensitive.”
Once Greenberg’s decision is registered with the court, Griffith’s family will have 30 days to appeal, Stewart said. After that, if no appeal is made, the family or the RM can ask the Minister of Health to exhume Griffith’s body.
“From our perspective, it would be entirely appropriate for RM to make the request,” Stewart said. “Whether they will want to do this, I cannot speculate.
“Someone is going to have to be exhumed,” he said. “If it’s not the Griffiths, it will be the Combs if they all want to be buried together.”
The genesis of the dispute dates back to 2006, when Isobel Combs purchased four plots in Del-Win Cemetery for herself and her husband Lloyd, their two sons and wives, and other family members.
Lloyd died in 2006, followed by Isobel in 2017 and both were buried in one of the plots.
“Someone is going to have to be exhumed. If it’s not the Griffiths, it will be the Combs if they all want to be buried together.
— Lawyer John Stewart
In January 2021, Patricia and Daniel Griffith purchased two plots in the cemetery. The RM issued the couple titles to the plots, unaware that the two plots had been sold to the Combs family 15 years earlier. In the years that followed, the cemetery had been remapped and a new numbering system introduced, mistakenly indicating that both plots were available for sale. Daniel Griffith died on Christmas Day 2020 aged 62 and was buried in one of the plots.
When Murray Combs, Lloyd and Isobel’s son, learned that Griffith was buried in one of their family’s plots, he contacted the RM and requested that he be exhumed. The RM was ready to move forward, but the Griffith family did not consent. The Combs family then filed a lawsuit.
It was necessary for the court to decide the question of ownership of the plots before an application could be filed with the province, as the Minister of Health does not have jurisdiction to decide title, Greenberg said in his decision.
The Combs family argued that the deeds to the plots had been given to them, giving them clear legal title to the property. The Griffith family told the court that they purchased the plots in good faith and that the disruption that would be caused by the exhumation of Daniel Griffith favored his retention where he is.
“The question before me is not whether to exhume Daniel Griffith,” Greenberg said. “It is a decision of the Minister of Health. I am not insensitive to the concerns of the defendants, but these concerns are not relevant to the determination of ownership.”
Peter Halamandaris, attorney for the Griffith family, said he respects the ruling.
“It’s all rather disappointing,” Halamandaris said. “We’ll see where we go from here.”
Someone once said that a journalist was just a reporter in a suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t have a good suit. But he’s had a good trial.
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