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By Jordan W. Charness

My father passed away last week. Not only was he my father, he was also the senior partner of our law firm and my business partner for over 25 years. He was a former deputy mayor of the city of Montréal, and was even given a medal by Queen Elizabeth.

Not only was he loved by his family but he was honoured by hundreds of people who attended his funeral. And for the first time in my life, I rode in one of the limousines in a funeral procession. In discussing the proceedings with the funeral director, he told us the hearse would be leading a funeral procession followed by the family’s limousines and the cars of those who were coming to the cemetery to pay their final respects to my father.

The cemetery was located about 20 kilometres away from the funeral home, and there were a large number of cars and people that made their way out to the cemetery for the burial. Although everyone left at approximately the same time, all the cars arrived at different times depending on traffic lights and how they got stuck in traffic.

Times have changed since the old days, when funeral processions were given a right-of-way. At one time, it was generally accepted that those who were following behind the hearse in a funeral procession on the way to a cemetery were allowed by convention or by law to all stay together. In those days, people would drive with their headlights on to signify that they were part of the funeral procession. In some places they were even allowed to go through red lights so as to be able to stay together.

But as I said, times have changed. Unless there is a particular and specific city-organized funeral procession, complete with police officers closing streets to allow the funeral procession to pass, it is generally illegal for those following behind the hearse to ignore traffic regulations, including red lights.

In addition, since all cars in Canada must be equipped with daytime running lights, it is virtually impossible to tell which cars are part of the funeral procession by looking at their headlights. The vast majority of cars now run with some form of headlights during the daytime.

I suppose that these things make sense, since there really was no way for people who are intersecting a funeral procession to know that that is what they’re doing. They would not expect cars to go through red lights in order to stay together. In fact, even those who are in a funeral procession must be sure not to drive slower than the minimum speed limits or in any other way obstruct traffic.

There are, however, some municipalities that allow funeral processions to have the right-of-way. I’ve even heard of some that are given magnetic flags that indicate to all who were around that these cars are part of the funeral procession. But even those are generally required to stop at red lights and stop signs and obey all other traffic regulations.

Perhaps some of the dignity and respect of the funeral procession of long-ago has disappeared, but my father, who was a staunch supporter of law and order, would be pleased to know that no one who followed behind him on his final car ride would break any law because of him.

This column is dedicated to my father Gerald N. F. Charness who always steered me right.

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