Poor living conditions blamed for deadly fire on reserve
Published Thursday, March 31, 2016 4:19AM EDT
Last Updated Thursday, March 31, 2016 1:16PM EDT
Ontario Provincial Police are still trying to determine what caused a house fire in a northern Ontario First Nations community that left nine members of one family dead.
Const. Diana Cole told CTV News Channel that officials from the local fire marshal’s office are on scene to investigate, as are members of the regional coroner’s office, OPP forensic officers and the force’s crime unit.
While no evidence has been found indicating a crime took place, Cole says it is standard procedure to bring in the crime unit with “an incident of this magnitude with significant loss of life.”
The fire broke out late Tuesday, in a home on the Pikangikum First Nation, a remote community of about 2,700 residents near the Manitoba-Ontario boundary.
A resident of the community who did not want to be identified told The Canadian Press that three generations of a single family died in the fire.
The resident identified the victims as Dean and Annette Strang, their son Gilbert, their daughter Faith, two common-law partners, and Faith's three young children.
Cole says at this point, police cannot confirm those deaths.
“We have to conduct our investigation and confirm and identify each person who is located in that residence. That is how our investigation is going to progress,” she said by phone Thursday.
Pikangikum is located approximately 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay and is accessible primarily by air and winter road, says Cole.
Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nation communities in northern Ontario, said that overcrowding and sub-standard housing have been major problems for Pikangikum residents for years. Many homes lack indoor plumbing and are built with substandard materials.
“People are dying from overcrowding, unsafe building standards and a lack of basic firefighting equipment, and more lives are at risk,” Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler said in a news release Wednesday.
“Such tragedies are avoidable, and it is critical that our communities are resourced appropriately to address their needs to ensure their health and safety.”
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson says many people living in the North worry that a similar fire such could happen to them.
"There are many, many houses -- I would say hundreds of houses -- like these that are substandard and are a danger to people even as we speak,” she told CTV Winnipeg.
She says it’s imperative that steps be taken to make these homes safer.
"None of us should be able to sleep well at night knowing there are hundreds of people potentially in the same predicament,” she said.
In a statement Thursday, Ontario's Regional Chief Isadore Day cited a 2010 federal study that found people living on a First Nations reserve in Canada are 10 times more likely to die in a house fire than the rest of the population.
"Poverty and the state of our communities have been ignored and is literally a quiet crisis killing our people and it must end now," he said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that his government will work to improve living conditions for First Nations people.
"We continue to be engaged with provincial and indigenous leadership on how to build better infrastructure, how to secure the future for indigenous youth and their communities," he said during a visit to Edmonton.
With a report from CTV Winnipeg’s Jon Hendricks