Statue of Lady Justice at Vancouver courthouse. (File photo Black Press Media)

Surrey woman given control of partner’s remains in dispute over religious funeral rites

Partner said deceased was Muslim, father said he was Sikh

A B.C. Supreme Court judge decided a Surrey woman should have control over the remains of her partner, who died without a will, in a case involving a dispute over religious funeral rites.

Amin Vinepal died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 24 on April 16, 2018. The petitioner, Fariya Ali, applied under the Cremation, Interment and Funeral Services Act in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver for control over the disposition of his remains. His father Iqbal Singh Vinepal, who did not file an application, submitted to the court that he ought to be the sole person with control over his son’s remains.

“His father’s resistance to the application of the petitioner is based on his understanding that the deceased was born and died in the Sikh religion. The petitioner submits the deceased was an adherent of Islam. The two religions have different funeral practices which explains why the petition is contested,” Justice Kenneth Affleck noted in his reasons for judgment posted Jan. 11, 2022. The case was heard in 2018, before Affleck was appointed to the Court of Appeal for British Columbia.

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Affleck decided that while Ali and Vinepal were not married they had been in a “marriage-like relationship” for at least two years prior to Vinepal’s death, meeting the definition of spouse under the Act.

Section 5(1) of the Act outlines the “order of priority” for who can apply for the disposition of a person’s remains. First in line is a personal representative named in a will (which he did not have). Next in line is the deceased’s spouse, with the deceased’s nearest relative after that.

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Ali told the court she met Vinepal at a family party when they were 10 years old, began a “romantic relationship” in 2011, began living together in 2014 and considered themselves to be spouses.

She said he had told her he wanted to have a Muslim funeral ceremony and to be buried. She and Vinepal lived together in a home that his stepfather rented in Surrey.

“I am aware of the strong feelings that exist on either side of this dispute but a choice must be made in accordance with the legislation to appoint a person who will have sole control over the disposition of the remains of the late Amin Vinepal,” Affleck concluded. “On balance I am persuaded that it is likely the deceased and the petitioner had a marriage-like relationship for at least two years immediately prior to the deceased’s death.”

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