Family wins battle over cemetery plot, fights to have body moved

A Deloraine family is seeking to have the body of a Manitoba man disinterred after winning a court fight proving they are the rightful owners of the cemetery plot in which he was mistakenly buried.

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A Deloraine family is seeking to have the body of a Manitoba man disinterred after winning a court fight proving they are the rightful owners of the cemetery plot in which he was mistakenly buried.

In a written decision released last week, Queen’s Bench Justice Shawn Greenberg ruled the family of Isobel and Lloyd Combs are the legal owners of two plots at the Del-Win Cemetery that the rural municipality resold in error to the family of Daniel Griffith.

With legal title to the plots decided, Greenberg’s decision paves the way for an application to the provincial health minister ordering that Griffith’s body be disinterred.

“This exact set of circumstances has never been decided in Canada.”
– Lawyer John Stewart

“This exact set of circumstances has never been decided in Canada,” said lawyer 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 this, including the RM.”

Pam Hainsworth, chief administrative officer for the Rural Municipality of Deloraine-Winchester, declined comment Wednesday.

“I have received the decision, but it has not been reviewed by council and won’t be until tonight, in camera,” Hainsworth said. “The issue is quite sensitive.”

COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES Del-Win Cemetery Deloraine, Manitoba

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 filed, either family or the RM can make an application to the health minister to have Griffith’s body disinterred.

“From our perspective, it would only be appropriate that the RM make the application,” Stewart said. “Whether they will want to do that, I can’t speculate.

“Somebody is going to have to be disinterred,” he said. “If 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 the 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.

“Somebody is going to have to be disinterred. If 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 the two plots had been sold to the Combs family 15 years earlier. In the intervening years, the cemetery had been remapped and a new numbering system was introduced, mistakenly showing the two plots as being available for sale. Daniel Griffith died Christmas Day, 2020 at the age of 62, and was buried in one of the plots.

When Murray Combs, Lloyd and Isobel’s son, learned Griffith was buried in one of their family’s plots, he contacted the RM and asked that he be disinterred. The RM was prepared 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 issue of ownership of the plots before an application can be made to the province because the health minister does not have the jurisdiction to decide title, Greenberg said in her decision.

The Combs family argued the deeds to the plots were delivered to them, giving them clear legal title to the property. The Griffith family told court they purchased the plots in good faith and the disruption that would be caused by disinterring Daniel Griffith favoured keeping him where he is.

“The issue before me is not whether to disinter Daniel Griffith,” Greenberg said. “That is a decision for the Minister of Health. I am not insensitive to the defendants’ concerns, but those concerns are not relevant to the determination of ownership.”

Peter Halamandaris, lawyer for the Griffith family, said they respect the decision.

“The whole thing is rather disappointing,” Halamandaris said. “We will see where we go from here.”

dean.pritchard@freepress.mb.ca

Dean Pritchard

Dean Pritchard
Courts reporter

Someone once said a journalist is just a reporter in a good suit. Dean Pritchard doesn’t own a good suit. But he knows a good lawsuit.

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