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Headstone inscription rule will be nixed.

The county is poised to approve a new cemetery bylaw that will allow inscriptions and etchings on the back of headstones.

The Community Services Committee recommended the new bylaw at its meeting on Apr. 15. Council will vote on the issue on May 7.

The county updated other areas of its cemetery bylaw and will allow a proper public notification and a comment period before registering it with the Ministry of Consumer Services.

The county's former bylaw was suspended on Mar. 19 and reviewed in order to bring it in line with wording recommended by the Ontario Association of Cemetery and Funeral Professionals. Other housekeeping changes have also been incorporated dealing with a consistent size of burial plot, payment terms, and Veterans Affairs requests.

The changes are a result of a controversy over a complaint by the Bailey family which protested that the Choi family had inscribed the back of the late Byung Soon Choi's headstone with Korean religious symbols, counter to Brant's cemetery bylaw. The Baileys had wanted to inscribe the rear of their family member's headstone but were refused by the cemetery department.

Some members of Bailey family had also asked that the Byung Soon Choi plot, which was currently located beside the plot of their family member, be moved some distance away.

Brant found itself in the untenable position of being a violator of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms if it chose to enforce its bylaw and ask the Choi family to remove the Korean writing on the back of its headstone.

Several community petitions were undertaken and presented to council asking it to rescind its bylaw and allow the Choi headstone to remain the way it was, and at its current location.

In March a debate at county council came to a stalemate. Mayor Ron Eddy moved that the bylaw be rescinded but the motion lost in a tie vote.

Dissenting councillors argued that if both sides of headstones were inscribed--the present bylaw allowed only the front to be inscribed, and only with the name and dates of birth and death of the deceased--then visitors might get confused where certain persons had been buried and would walk on their graves. The potential offensiveness of illustrative engravings on headstones was another issue for Coun. Joan Gatward, who noted that hypothetically, a headstone with the engraving of a truck could be offensive to the family of a little girl who was killed by a truck.

St. George resident David Thomson, who is married to the daughter of Byung Soon Choi, hired a lawyer who told the county that a constitutional challenge would proceed if Brant proceeded to enforce its bylaw with the Choi headstone.

To make matters even worse, research by Coun. Robert Chambers and others showed that the county had never actually properly certified its present cemetery bylaw with the Registrar of Cemeteries, had never conducted a proper public notification procedure, and had never really consistently enforced the provisions of its bylaw. Other municipalities, according to Chambers, had similar problems with their cemetery bylaws.

The issue was publicized by media outlets far and wide including a Mar. 26 column by Toronto Star writer Rosie DiManno who mocked the County of Brant's rules and procedures, portrayed the Choi and Bailey families as dueling small-town families, satirized the comments made at committee and council meetings, and poked fun at the issue's implied racism.
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Publication:Paris Chronicle (Paris, Canada)
Date:Apr 30, 2013
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